Enhancing space nuclear technologies is a joint effort between NASA and the US Department of Energy. The space agency has selected three design concept concepts for a fission surface power system that could be launched by the end of this decade for a demonstration on the Moon and will aid future exploration as part of the Artemis mission.
Each of the contracts awarded by the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory to Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, and IX (a joint venture between Intuitive Machines and X-Energy) is worth close to $5 million.
The contracts will pay for the creation of preliminary design ideas for a 40-kilowatt class fission power plant that is anticipated to operate for at least 10 years in lunar conditions.
In comparison to other power sources, fission systems are dependable, compact, and lightweight. Long-duration expeditions to the Moon and even Mars will be possible thanks to these systems’ ability to provide continuous power independent of location, the amount of sunlight available, and other environmental factors.
Jim Reuter, the NASA Space Technologies Mission Directorate’s Associate Administrator, said: ‘Our exploration of the Moon, Mars, and other planets is driven by new technology. We will build the groundwork for sustaining our long-term human presence on other worlds by developing these early ideas.’
The request for the proposal creation, review, and procurement sponsored by NASA was headed by the management and operating contractor for Idaho National Laboratory, Battelle Energy Alliance.
John Wagner, director of the Idaho National Laboratory, said: ‘A very doable first step toward the United States generating nuclear power on the Moon is the Fission Surface Power project. I’m interested to see what each of these teams will be able to do.’
Through Phase 1 grants, NASA will obtain crucial information from the industry that may lead to the cooperative development of the complete flight-certified fission power system.
NASA will benefit from the fission surface power technologies as they develop nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to produce power for deep space exploration missions.