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NASA wants to put a nuclear reactor on the moon by 2030

NASA has announced plans to place a nuclear reactor on the moon by 2030 as part of a vision to turn the lunar body into a spinning power plant.

The US space agency has selected three design concept proposals for a fission system that could be ready for launch by the end of the decade.

It would then be tested by astronauts returning to the lunar surface as part of the new Artemis program, which will see the first woman and 13th man land on the moon by 2025.

The plan is for the 40-kilowatt nuclear fission system to last at least 10 years in the lunar environment, with the hopes that one day it could support a permanent human presence on the moon, as well as manned missions to Mars and beyond. †

If NASA wants to build a base on the lunar surface, one of the biggest problems to be solved will be how such a proposed settlement would be powered.

Solar panels are great for powering robbers, but a human base would need a continuous and reliable power source.

NASA has announced plans to place a nuclear reactor on the moon by 2030 as part of a vision to turn the lunar body into a revolving fuel station.  The vision is depicted in the image above

NASA has announced plans to place a nuclear reactor on the moon by 2030 as part of a vision to turn the lunar body into a revolving fuel station. The vision is depicted in the image above

HOW DO NUCLEAR ACTORS WORK?

A nuclear reactor generates energy by splitting atoms of uranium.

The energy released by these atoms is then used to boil water. This in turn drives a turbine.

A reactor core contains the uranium pellets and a 1000 megawatt (MWe) installation would contain about 75 tons of enriched uranium.

Uranium-235 is bombarded with neutrons to split the atom, which then creates different elements or another isotope of uranium.

Either way, energy is released.

These often also undergo radioactive decay and a chain reaction is activated – adding to the net energy output.

Steam is produced, condensed and then recycled, so the only waste products are often the radioactive compounds created during fission.

Control rods can be added to or removed from the reactor core to increase or decrease the reaction rate.

These are made of stable elements such as boron, silver, indium and cadmium which are able to absorb many neutrons without undergoing fission.

NASA experts are exploring nuclear fission as the answer, as the technology has been used extensively on Earth.

Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, fission systems are reliable and can provide continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight and other natural environmental conditions, the US space agency said.

If the demonstration of such a system on the moon were successful, it would pave the way for powering longer space travel.

“New technology is driving our exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“Developing these early designs will help us lay the foundation for enhancing our human presence in other worlds in the long term.”

The three design contracts, awarded through the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, are worth approximately $5 million (£4 million) each.

They have been awarded to Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse of Cranberry Township in Pennsylvania and IX of Houston, Texas, a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-Energy.

The latter will collaborate with Maxar and Boeing.

However, details of the individual design concept proposals have not yet been disclosed to the public.

“The Fission Surface Power project is a very viable first step toward the United States’ adoption of nuclear power on the moon,” said John Wagner, director of the Idaho National Laboratory.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what each of these teams will achieve.”

It is hoped that the development of these surface power fission technologies will also help NASA develop nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These can then be used for deep space reconnaissance missions.

It would then be tested by astronauts returning to the lunar surface as part of the new Artemis program, which will see the first woman and 13th man land on the moon by 2025.  Pictured is the Artemis 1 mega rocket that will transport them there

It would then be tested by astronauts returning to the lunar surface as part of the new Artemis program, which will see the first woman and 13th man land on the moon by 2025. Pictured is the Artemis 1 mega rocket that will transport them there

It is hoped that the development of these surface power fission technologies will also help NASA develop nuclear propulsion systems (depicted in the artistic impression above) that rely on reactors to generate power.  These can then be used for deep space reconnaissance missions

It is hoped that the development of these surface power fission technologies will also help NASA develop nuclear propulsion systems (depicted in the artistic impression above) that rely on reactors to generate power. These can then be used for deep space reconnaissance missions

NASA’s original date for re-landing humans on the moon was 2024, but the date was postponed last year, blaming lawsuits from Amazon company Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.

In August this year, the US space agency plans to send manikins into space as part of the Artemis I mission.

Artemis I will pave the way for manned flights – Artemis II, which will be launched in May 2024 and fly past the moon without landing on it, and Artemis III, which will actually land on the lunar surface.

Artemis III, which will launch “no earlier than 2025,” will be the first to land humans on the moon in more than 50 years, since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025 as part of the Artemis mission

Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.

NASA chose her to personify the path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2025 — including the first woman and the next man.

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.

Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Artemis 1 will be an unmanned flight that will provide a foundation for human exploration of deep space and demonstrate our commitment and capacity to extend human existence to the moon and beyond.

During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.

It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of a mission lasting about three weeks.

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.  This image explains the different stages of the mission

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. This image explains the different stages of the mission

Orion will stay in space longer than any other ship has done for astronauts without docking in a space station and returning home faster and hotter than ever before.

With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and test the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations further from Earth, including Mars.

They take the crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with people on board.

Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging needs of crew and cargo missions in deep space.

Ultimately, NASA aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.

The space agency hopes this colony will discover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advances and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.

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