NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are working together to advance space nuclear technologies. They selected three design concept proposals for a fission surface power system design that could be ready to launch by the end of the decade for a demonstration on the Moon. This technology would benefit future exploration under the Artemis umbrella.
The contracts, each valued at approximately $5 million, fund the development of initial design concepts for a 40-kilowatt class fission power system planned to last at least 10 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 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.”
Idaho National Laboratory will award 12-month Fission Surface Power project contracts to Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, and IX, plus their partner companies, to develop initial designs for the lunar fission reactors.
The Phase 1 awards will provide NASA with critical information from the industry that can lead to the joint development of a full flight-certified fission power system. Fission surface power technologies also will help NASA mature nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These systems could be used for deep space exploration missions.
“The Fission Surface Power project is a very achievable first step toward the United States 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.”