NASA is looking for ideas for a nuclear reactor on the moon

BOISE, Idaho — If anyone has a good idea of ​​how to set up a nuclear fission power plant moon, the US government would like to hear about it.

NASA and the country’s best federal nuclear research laboratory on Friday issued a request for proposals for a fission surface power system.

NASA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to establish a solar-independent power source for missions to the moon by the end of the decade.

“Delivering a reliable, high-power system on the moon is a crucial next step in human space exploration, and achieving it is within our reach,” said Sebastian Corbisiero, head of the Fission Surface Power Project at the laboratory, in a declaration.

If it succeeds in supporting a sustained human presence on the moon, the next target would be Mars. NASA says that fission surface power can provide sustained, abundant power regardless of the environmental conditions on the moon or Mars.

“I expect that fission surface energy systems will greatly benefit our plans for power architectures for the moon and Mars and even drive innovation for use here on Earth,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The reactor would be built on Earth and then sent to the moon.

Nuclear power moon
The exterior of the Transient Reactor Test Facility at the Idaho National Laboratory about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho, on November 29, 2018. (Keith Riddler, File / AP Photo)

Proposed plans for the fission surface power system should include a uranium-fuel reactor core, a system for converting nuclear power into usable energy, a thermal management system to keep the reactor cool, and a distribution system that delivers no less than 40 kilowatts continuously. electric current for 10 years in the lunar environment.

Some other requirements include that it is capable of switching itself on and off without human assistance, that it can operate from the deck of a lunar lander, and that it can be removed from the lander and run on a mobile system and transported. to another lunar site for operation.

When sent from Earth to the moon, it must also fit inside a cylinder with a diameter of 4 meters that is 6 meters long. It should not weigh more than 13,200 pounds (6,000 kg).

Proposals for proposals are for an initial system design and must be submitted by 19 February.

The Idaho National Laboratory has previously worked with NASA on various projects. Most recently, the lab helped power NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance with a radioisotope power system that converts heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electric current.

The car-sized rover landed on Mars in February and has remained active on the red planet.

The Ministry of Energy has also worked on collaborating with private companies on various nuclear power plans, especially on a new generation of smaller power plants, ranging from small modular reactors to small mobile reactors that can be quickly set up in the field and then removed. when not necessary.

by Keith Ridler

Associated Press

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