NASA and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) are working together to create a viable space nuclear technology. Three design concept proposals for a nuclear fission surface power system design have been selected by the agencies. According to NASA, a demonstration of such a technology could potentially be deployed to the moon by the end of the decade. It is aimed at aiding future Artemis missions to the moon that will see mankind returning to Earth’s satellite after decades.
DOE awarded contracts, each valued at approximately $5 million, through its Idaho National Laboratory. The funds awarded under the contract will be used for the development of initial design concepts for a 40-kilowatt fission power system planned to last at least 10 years in the harsh environment on the moon. The contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse and IX. All three will partner with other companies as well.
A nuclear fission system is ideal for the lunar environment because they are comparatively small and lightweight. Also, they can reliably generate power regardless of location, available sunlight and other natural conditions. The deployment of such a power generation system on the Moon could pave the way for long-duration missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
“The Fission Surface Power project is a very achievable first step toward the United States establishing nuclear power on the Moon. I look forward to seeing what each of these teams will accomplish,” said Idaho National Laboratory Director John Wagner, in a NASA press statement.
With these Phase 1 awards, NASA will get critical information from the industry and this could lead to the joint development of a full flight-certified fission power system. These fission surface power technologies will also help NASA develop nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power instead of rocket fuel. They could also potentially be used for deep space exploration missions.