NASA seeks ideas for a nuclear reactor on the moon

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BOISE, Idaho — If anyone has a good idea about putting a nuclear fission plant on the moon, the US government wants to hear it.

NASA and the country’s top federal nuclear research lab on Friday submitted a request for proposals for a nuclear fission system.

NASA is working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to develop a solar-independent energy source for missions to the moon by the end of the decade.

“Providing a reliable, powerful system on the Moon is an essential next step in human space exploration, and achieving it is within our grasp,” said Sebastian Corbisiero, the leader of the Fission Surface Power Project at the lab. , in a statement.

If it succeeds in sustaining a sustainable human presence on the moon, Mars would be the next target. NASA says surface power through fission can provide sustainable, abundant energy regardless of environmental conditions on the Moon or Mars.

“I expect nuclear fission systems to greatly benefit our energy architecture plans for the Moon and Mars and even drive innovation for use here on Earth,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The reactor would be built on Earth and then sent to the moon.

The plans for the nuclear fission system must include a uranium-fired reactor core, a system to convert the nuclear energy into usable energy, a thermal management system to keep the reactor cool, and a distribution system that supplies no less than 40 kilowatts continuously. electrical energy for 10 years in the lunar environment.

Some other requirements are that it must be able to turn itself on and off without human assistance, that it can operate from the deck of a lunar lander, and that it can be removed from the lander and run and transported on a mobile system. turn into. to another lunar location for surgery.

In addition, when launched from Earth to the Moon, it must fit into a 12-foot (4-meter) diameter cylinder that is 18 feet (6 meters) long. It must not weigh more than 13,200 pounds (6,000 kilograms).

The proposal requests are for an initial system design and must be submitted before February 19.

The Idaho National Laboratory has worked with NASA on several projects in the past. Most recently, the lab helped power NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance with a radioisotope power system, which converts heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electrical current.

The car-sized rover landed on Mars in February and has remained active on the red planet.

The Energy Department has also worked with private companies on several nuclear power plants, most notably on a new generation of smaller power plants ranging from small modular reactors to small mobile reactors that can be quickly deployed in the field and then removed when not needed.

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