Artist's impression of a nuclear fission reactor on the Moon. Credit: NASA

NASA is Putting a Nuclear Reactor on the Moon—Here’s What You Should Know

NASA aims to create a sustainable solar-independent power source on the Moon and is looking for your help.

NASA announced a new ambitious project within the framework of the Artemis program, which will see the return of humans to our natural satellite. In tandem with the US Department of Energy, the agency seeks to create and deliver a nuclear reactor to the Moon. To do this, they plan to involve a number of private companies in the development of fundamentally new technologies.


Why do we need a nuclear reactor on the Moon?

Sustainable source of energy for future colonies

The new fission surface power (FSP) project is sponsored by NASA and aims to create a long-lasting, solar-independent power source for all future missions before the end of this decade. According to NASA’s engineers, a nuclear fission reactor will be the most optimal source of energy for the needs of the planned colony on the Moon. Moreover, it could also serve as a kind of “staging post” for future missions to Mars.

Stage one

NASA intends to develop this project in several stages. As a start, they want to create a compact nuclear reactor, which will be able to generate up to 10 kW of power. This amount of energy will be sufficient to provide several modules of the future colony. Initial needs include powering up the life support systems of lunar households, charging the batteries of rovers, and conducting scientific experiments.

Stage two

Over time, the nuclear fission reactor will be upgraded to one that can generate 40kW of energy. According to NASA’s estimates, this amount will be enough to provide up to 30 lunar households with power for up to a decade. As the colony grows, the number of reactors will increase and humanity will have the necessary energy for a permanent lunar presence.

Anyone could propose a design for the nuclear reactor on the Moon

Reports state that more than 20 applications from different companies have already been submitted. It should be mentioned that anyone could join, not only companies that operate in the space industry. In fact, anyone with a creative idea, whether it is an individual, a group, or an organization, can propose a design.

Deadline

After receiving proposals from private companies, NASA, together with the US Department of Energy, will select the best design solutions for nuclear reactors on the Moon by the end of February 2022 and help develop these technologies over the next year.

Requirements

The nuclear reactor will be fully assembled here on Earth and prepared for direct use before getting sent to the Moon. There are, however, certain boundaries for the design. When assembled, the reactor should fit into a cylinder with a length of 6 meters and a diameter of 4 meters. Plus, it should weigh less than 6,000 kilograms. Most importantly, it should be fully automatic – this means that it should be able to turn on and off independently without human assistance.

Nuclear reactors on the Moon and Mars?

Besides the nuclear fission reactor on the Moon, we might see a similar power system on Mars. A group of researchers recently proposed a new project for the installation of a reactor on one of Mars’ satellites – Phobos. The goal is to “restart” the magnetic field of the Red Planet, which would ultimately make the alien world more habitable and safer for future colonists. You can read all about this concept in our article “Group Of Scientists Wants to Make Mars Habitable by Restarting Its Magnetic Field”.


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Sources:

Carleton, A. (n.d.). NASA plans to put a nuclear reactor on the Moon within a decade. VICE.
Dockrill, P. (n.d.). NASA reveals bold plan to put a nuclear reactor on the Moon within 10 years. ScienceAlert.
Ridler, K. (2021, November 19). NASA seeks ideas for a nuclear reactor on the Moon. Phys.org.
Sands, K. (2021, November 19). Fission system to power exploration on the Moon’s surface and beyond. NASA.
Schultz, I. (2021, November 22). NASA wants to put a nuclear reactor on the Moon. Gizmodo.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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