According to the latest announcement, NASA and the Department of Energy are working together to put a nuclear reactor on the Moon by 2030.
In its quest to return to and eventually establish a permanent human presence on the Moon, NASA has given three design contracts for a nuclear reactor that may run there.
In order to colonize Mars as well as the Moon, NASA and the Department of Energy are working together on this project. As part of the agency’s Artemis project, it is intended to have a nuclear fission reactor on the Moon by 2030.
Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, and XI, a partnership between X-Energy and Intuitive Machines, were each given design contracts worth $5 million.
The potential designs have not been made public by the companies, but there are a few criteria NASA will be looking for in the first nuclear power plant to be built outside of Earth.
The nuclear reactor needs to be powerful, able to provide at least 40 kilowatts of power, and long-lasting enough to operate on the lunar surface for ten years. But it must also be compact. The power station must weigh less than 13,200 pounds and fit inside a 12-foot-wide cylinder because it must be built on Earth and transported to the Moon by a rocket.
If built successfully, similar techniques might be utilized to make trips to Mars and make long-distance space travel possible. According to NASA, future colonies on the Red Planet may also be powered by similar technologies. The moon base itself will play a supporting role in the first human mission to Mars.
On the Moon and Mars, rovers and other scientific equipment are typically powered by solar panels. However, lunar nights can last for several weeks, and solar power generation would be challenging due to crater shadows even during the day. Because they provide natural shelter from environmental threats like cosmic radiation, craters have been suggested as the ideal location for a moon base.
NASA had planned to send humans to the Moon in 2024, but that date has been moved back to “2025 at the earliest”. If the mission is successful, it will establish the first human presence on the Moon in more than 50 years and send the first woman to walk on the lunar surface.
NASA intends to launch Artemis I later this summer, which will carry manikins (scientific mannequins designed to mimic human bodies rather than display clothing), Artemis II the following year, which will carry human astronauts but only fly past the Moon, and Artemis III the following year, which will actually land on the Moon and carry the first female astronaut to walk on the surface of the moon.
Furthermore, NASA intends to construct a space station that will orbit the Moon and, among other things, aid astronauts there in communicating with Earth.
Several space agencies besides NASA are also attempting to land on the Moon. By 2030, the China National Space Administration wants to send Chinese taikonauts to the moon. They might come across a nuclear fission station if Artemis doesn’t cause any more delays.