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Rolls-Royce to Build Nuclear Reactor for Future Moon Base

Rolls-Royce Logo
Rolls-Royce Logo. Credit: n4i Photo / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The UK Space Agency will give £2.9 million (US$3.5 million) to Rolls-Royce to fund the building of a nuclear reactor.

Under the contract, Rolls-Royce is expected to develop a demonstrator modular nuclear reactor that could be deployed on the Moon by 2029, with the aim of supporting permanent human outposts on the lunar surface.

Most spacecraft that operate near Earth rely on solar panels for power. However, for probes to land and operate on the Moon for an extended period, an alternative power supply is required.

The Moon has long nights that can last for up to 14 Earth days, with temperatures as low as -298 °F (-183 °C), which can cause severe damage to batteries and delicate electronics, hence the need for an alternative power source.

Investment in response to Artemis lunar missions

The British Minister of State in the UK’s Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology closely approached admitting in the press release that the investment was made in response to NASA’s upcoming Artemis lunar missions.

NASA’s Artemis program continues to move forward with the impending third mission that is set to be the first Moon landing since 1972’s Apollo 17 mission.

This mission is slated to build on the success of the Artemis 2 mission. During the mission, four astronauts aboard the Orion module will dock with the Lunar Gateway and will remain in space for a period of 30 days.

Subsequently, the human landing system will take two astronauts on a journey to the Moon’s South Pole, a region still undiscovered by humans.

Upon landing, the astronauts will conduct scientific studies for a week on the unknown terrain of the South Pole region of the Moon. Part of their mission will be to collect water ice samples, first detected on the Moon in 1971.

Rolls-Royce plans to have a reactor for moon ready by 2029

Rolls-Royce has announced its plans to develop and launch a nuclear microreactor to the moon by 2029.

The project is a collaboration between Rolls-Royce and various academic institutions such as the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), and Nuclear AMRC.

Compared to other power systems, a nuclear microreactor is small and lightweight, allowing for a constant power supply, making it an excellent alternative for areas where sunlight and environmental conditions cannot generate sufficient energy.

Abi Clayton, the director of future programs at Rolls-Royce, has stated that this ambitious project showcases the immense benefits of microreactor technology, not just for space exploration but also for industries on Earth.

Its potential applications include commercial and defense uses, as well as providing a solution to decarbonize industry by supplying clean, safe, and reliable energy. The funding will get the project closer to making the microreactor a reality.

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