“NASA and the DOE are collaborating on this important and challenging development that, once completed, will be an incredible step towards long-term human exploration of the Moon and Mars,” said Fission Surface Power Project Manager Todd Tofil at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, inthe press release announcing the venture. “We’ll take advantage of the unique capabilities of the government and private industry to provide reliable, continuous power that is independent of the lunar location.”
BACKGROUND: NUKES IN SPACE NORMALLY A BAD IDEA
Earth has had its share of disasters when trying to safely manage the radioactive fuels necessary for nuclear fission reactors. Nuclear based weapons have been kept out of space since thesigning of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967, which banned them outright, but nuclear power has no such limitation.
These systems are particularly valuable in space where every ounce is critical, and nuclear power packs so much more juice than even the most sophisticated rocket fuels. As a result, nuclear based power systems have been part of varied satellite and rover programs over the ensuing decades.
ANALYSIS: LUNAR NUCLEAR REACTOR PROPOSALS NOW ACCEPTED
This versatility and power to weight advantage of nuclear fission power has finally led NASA to the idea of using such reactors as a means of power on the Moon, where the upcoming Artemis missions hope to aid the space agency in establishing a permanent presence.
“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,” said Sebastian Corbisiero, the Fission Surface Power Project lead at the DOE’s INL.
The Debrief haspreviously reported on space propulsion concepts using nuclear fusion as a power source.Such systems may one day lead humanity deep into the out reaches of our own system, and maybe even into interstellar space. But whatever means of propulsion future space missions ultimately employ, having usable power on site for Lunar (or even Martian) space colonists, not to mention long distance space travelers, may very well require nuclear fission systems like the one being sought by NASA and the INL.
“Plentiful energy will be key to future space exploration,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “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.”
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter:@plain_fiction