The UK Space Agency has announced its support for a research project by Rolls-Royce on the use of nuclear power for a future Moon base for astronauts.
The Micro-Reactor program aims to develop technology that will provide the necessary power for human habitation and work on the Moon.
Power is a crucial requirement for any space mission to support systems for communications, life support, and scientific experiments. Nuclear power has the potential to significantly increase the duration and scientific value of future Lunar missions.
The UK Space Agency has provided £2.9 million in funding for the project to deliver a demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor.
The project follows a £249,000 study funded by the agency in 2022.
The Minister of State at the Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology, George Freeman, has highlighted the importance of such projects for the UK’s £16 billion SpaceTech sector and its contribution to job creation and frontier science.
Rolls-Royce plans to have a reactor ready for the Moon by 2029.
The company is collaborating with several universities, including the University of Oxford, the University of Bangor, the University of Brighton, the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and Nuclear AMRC.
The funding will enable Rolls-Royce to strengthen its knowledge of these complex systems, focusing on the fuel used to generate heat, the method of heat transfer, and technology to convert that heat into electricity.
Nuclear space power is anticipated to create new skilled jobs across the UK to support the burgeoning UK space economy.
A nuclear micro-reactor is relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems and could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other environmental conditions.
The potential applications of the Micro-Reactor technology are wide-ranging and could support commercial and defense use cases in addition to those in space.
Abi Clayton, Director of Future Programs for Rolls-Royce, expressed her appreciation for the new tranche of funding from the UK Space Agency, stating that the technology will bring immense benefits for both space and Earth.
Dr. Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, also highlighted the innovative research by Rolls-Royce as a way to enhance the wider UK space sector, create jobs, and generate further investment.
The partnership with Rolls-Royce follows the UK Space Agency’s recent announcement of £51 million in funding available for UK companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon, as part of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight program.
The program aims to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the Moon to enable future astronauts, rovers, science experiments, and equipment to communicate, share data, and navigate safely across the lunar surface.