Under the Artemis program, NASA has selected three companies to design a small nuclear reactor capable of operating on the moon. If such a device sees the light of day, its effect on space conquest will be immense.
A lunar nuclear fission furnace
The purpose of the American Space Agency, which is working in partnership with the Department of Energy on this project, is to create a system based on nuclear fission, equivalent to 40 kilowatts of power generation capacity or full charge of entry. – Level Nissan Leaf electric car. However, the reactor will be able to build it continuously and NASA wants it to be able to do this for at least ten years.
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“ Relatively small and light compared to other power systems, fission systems are reliable and can provide uninterrupted power regardless of location, available sunlight and other natural environmental conditions. “, Details NASA in a press release. Not to be confused with nuclear fusion, which makes it possible to reproduce the conditions found in the heart of the star, on which many researchers are still working, nuclear fission is already used by humanity in nuclear power plants. Atomic.
NASA has been thinking of such a system for at least fourteen years, and hopes that the concept it has chosen will be tested on our satellites by the end of the decade.
Who are the three winners?
The space agency has chosen the concept of three different companies and will each receive a 5 million grant for its design.
The first company was Lockheed Martin, which was also selected by the US Department of Defense to build a nuclear-powered spacecraft. Lockheed Martin is a firm with a lot of experience accustomed to the aerospace sector, it is also the world’s top defense and security agency. He is also at the origin of the Orion Capsule, where astronauts from the Artemis program will be transported, and has been involved in the design of various rovers sent by NASA to Mars. The company will partner with BWXT and Creare for the development of nuclear reactors.
The second firm selected by NASA is Westinghouse, and it will be in partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne. Acquired by Toshiba in 2006, Westinghouse specializes in the design and production of nuclear fuel assembly as well as the development and construction of new nuclear power plants.
The latest company to benefit from an agreement with NASA is a joint venture between IX, Intuitive Machines and X-Energy. Unlike its two competitors, IX consists of young firms, founded in 2013 and 2009, respectively. Intuitive machines specialize in new lunar economics and have already entered into other agreements with NASA as part of the Artemis program. X-Energy is an engineering and design company for nuclear reactors and fuels. IX will collaborate with Boeing and Maxer.
The importance of such technology
As a reminder, the Artemis program plans to send humans back to the moon, but also plans to build a permanent base there that will continue to be occupied by astronauts. With one or more nuclear reactors, energy would no longer be a problem for long and distant space travel, and this progress could allow us to take great strides in conquering Mars. Furthermore, the technology could lead to important discoveries for nuclear propulsion systems, the key to potential deep space exploration.
“ The Phase 1 award will allow NASA to receive critical information from the industry that could lead to the joint development of a fully flight-certified fission power system. Surface fission power technologies will help NASA mature nuclear propulsion systems that use reactors to generate energy. These systems can be used for deep space exploration missions NASA explains in its press release.
Expanding over many years, the Artemis program should begin soon and allow humanity to make incredible scientific advances. In addition to its potential to generate energy in space, this program should hatch the first GPS system outside Earth, which would allow astronauts like our planet to locate themselves on the moon.