NASA wants to put a nuclear fission power plant on the Moon and is accepting proposals for an initial system design, according to reports.
The US space agency is working with the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility that’s part of the Department of Energy’s complex of labs, to create the sun-independent power source for missions to the moon by the end of the decade.
“Providing a reliable, high-power system on the moon is a vital next step in human space exploration, and achieving it is within our grasp,” Sebastian Corbisiero, the Fission Surface Power Project lead at the lab, said in a statement.
If successful in supporting a sustained human presence on the Moon, the next objective would be Mars.
A nuclear reactor would provide essential power regardless of conditions on either the Moon or Mars, and be built on Earth before being sent into space.
“I expect fission surface power systems to greatly benefit our plans for power architectures for the moon and Mars and even drive innovation for uses here on Earth,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
The proposals for the reactor should include plans for a uranium-fuelled reactor core, a system to convert the nuclear power into usable energy, a thermal management system to keep the reactor cool, and a distribution system providing no less than 40 kilowatts of continuous electric power for 10 years.
It should be capable of turning itself off and on without human help and be able to operate from the deck of a lunar lander. The plant must also be capable of being removed from the lander and run on a mobile system and be transported to a different lunar site.
When launched from Earth, it should fit inside a four-metre diameter cylinder that’s six metres long. It should not weigh more than 6,000 kilogram.
The proposal requests are for an initial system design and must be submitted by February 19.