NASA and the US Department of Energy (DOE) have selected three design concept proposals for a nuclear fission reactor system that would eventually be used to power exploratory expeditions on the Moon under the Artemis umbrella. The agencies hope that the system could be ready to launch by the end of the decade for a demonstration on the lunar surface.
The contracts, to be awarded through the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, are each valued at about US$5million. The contracts will fund the development of initial design concepts for a 40-kilowatt-class fission power system planned to last at least ten years in the lunar environment.
Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, fission systems are reliable and could enable continuous power, regardless of the location, available sunlight and other natural environmental conditions. A demonstration of such systems on the Moon would pave the way for long-duration missions on the Moon and Mars.
‘New technology drives our exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond,’ said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. ‘Developing these early designs will help us lay the groundwork for powering our long-term human presence on other worlds.’
The three 12-month contracts will be awarded to Lockheed Martin, which will partner with BWXT and Creare; Westinghouse, which will partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne; and IX, a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-Energy, which will partner with Maxar and Boeing.
‘The Fission Surface Power project is a very achievable first step toward the USA establishing nuclear power on the Moon,’ said Idaho National Laboratory director John Wagner. ‘I look forward to seeing what each of these teams will accomplish.’
The Phase 1 awards will provide NASA with critical information from industry that is expected to lead to the joint development of a full flight-certified fission power system. The resultant fission surface power technologies will also help NASA to further develop nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These systems could eventually be used for deep-space-exploration missions.