Inspenet, December 12, 2023.
Rolls-Royce has revealed its nuclear reactor design intended to power future outposts on the Moon. The space micro reactor , approximately 1 meter wide and 3 meters long, does not yet have the capacity to generate electricity. It is estimated that it will take around six years and a few million dollars to get it ready for its first space deployment, as long as development proceeds as planned.
The UK Space Agency awarded Rolls-Royce the equivalent of $3.7 million in March this year to support the evolution of this potentially groundbreaking lunar technology. The mock-up of the reactor was unveiled at the UK Space Conference in Belfast last month.
“This funding has enabled crucial research and development of technologies that bring us closer to making the microreactor a reality.“said Abi Clayton, director of future programs at Rolls-Royce, in a statement December 1.”Our conceptual model of a space microreactor allows us to demonstrate how this technology will bring immense benefits to both space and Earth.“.
About the micro space reactor
The reactor will be based on the nuclear fission process , the same method used by nuclear power plants on Earth to generate electricity. Although most lunar missions , such as the recent rovers from China and India, have relied on solar power, this strategy has obvious limitations because the Moon remains in darkness for two weeks each month.
One nuclear power source used in spaceflight is radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which are simpler and less powerful. These nuclear batteries depend on the natural process of radioactive decay, where a less stable nucleus transforms over time into a more stable one, releasing energy in the process. Although RTGs have a long lifespan, they do not generate enough power to keep a manned mission operational.
On the other hand, the nuclear fission process involves the splitting of a large atomic nucleus into smaller fragments, generating much more energy than simple decay, although it requires an external source of energy to initiate it. Rolls-Royce indicated that the lunar reactor will be modular in its design and will offer numerous applications on Earth as well.
” Microreactor technology will provide the ability to support commercial and defense use cases, as well as provide a solution to decarbonize industry and provide clean, safe and reliable energy ,” Clayton said in the statement.
Rolls-Royce engineers are currently exploring techniques to convert the heat produced by the reactor through nuclear fission into electricity . Unlike traditional nuclear reactors on Earth, where this heat is used to boil water and generate pressurized steam that drives a turbine, such a system could be too complex for a technology destined for space.
” This ground-breaking research from Rolls-Royce could lay the foundations to boost continued human presence on the Moon, while improving the UK space sector, creating jobs and generating further investment ,” said Paul Bate, chief executive of the Agency. UK Space Agency, in the same statement.
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Source and photo: space.com