Electricity has revolutionized the world like nothing ever has, and it is impossible for humanity to imagine life on Earth without it. What if we could generate electricity in space? Can it revolutionize space travel?
US space agency NASA has now announced its decision to put a “durable, high power, solar independent” fission reactor on the moon, positively before 2030. So, by chance, if you’ve sketched out plans for a portable powerhouse nuclear fission, now is the time to shine. The only condition is that NASA can take him to the moon in a rocket 12 feet long by 18 feet wide!
NASA is working with the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to invest in the multibillion-dollar project. And even though humanity will visit the Moon after an almost 50-year hiatus via the Artemis mission, one could argue that this is still an incredibly bold statement to make, given that the Groups plan to do this work remains a gray area.
On November 19, the INL issued a statement saying they “were looking for industrial partners to design nuclear power systems for lunar applications.” The request for reactor designs on behalf of NASA and a DOE contractor is open until February 19, 2022.
Why a nuclear power station of all things?
The United States hopes to have the first long-term moon presence in the near future. To be successful, they will likely need a power source. Wind or water sources are impossible because of, well, the lack of wind and water on the moon. Fossil fuels are also far-fetched, due to the high cost of transporting them to the moon.
In comparison, solar power is much more plausible, but again, it could probably only provide power for the few hours that the panels are exposed to the sun.
So the only option left is nuclear power.
“Abundant energy will be the key to future space exploration. I expect fission surface power systems to greatly benefit our power supply architecture plans for the Moon and Mars and even boost the power supply. ‘innovation for uses here on Earth,’ said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
And NASA plans to use specially constructed small modular reactors (SMRs) to deliver constant power in any environment, just like they do on the ground. However, the units should be designed to withstand the most adverse environmental conditions.
According to the press release, the proposed reactor is to be a uranium fission reactor capable of splitting heavy atomic nuclei into lighter nuclei, releasing energy as a by-product. The reactor should weigh no more than 6000 kilograms and be small enough to fit in the rocket (12 feet long by 18 feet wide).
The reactor will be built on Earth and then launched to the Moon, where it will have to generate 40 kilowatts of electricity continuously for ten years. The reactor should also include temperature controls to keep the device cool. Finally, it must have structural integrity to withstand launching from Earth and landing on the Moon.
The bigger picture
It would be reasonable to question NASA’s decision to embark on this decade-long project, especially since the United States will be spending several billion dollars on it.
According to reports, scientists at the Beijing Uranium Geology Research Institute were carrying out rather peculiar experiments on samples of moon rock. And tests indicated that the superpower was probably trying to see if it could build a nuclear power plant on the moon.
If this is true, it certainly explains why the United States would want to get a head start on such a lucrative expedition.
Anyway, whatever the motive, if NASA was successful it would be amazing and it would mean that we could bring more of this type of technology to the Red Planet.
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