Rolls-Royce to build nuclear reactor for future Moon base by 2029

Rolls-Royce to build nuclear reactor for future Moon base by 2029
Artist's concept of lunar base powered by a Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor
Artist's concept of lunar base powered by a Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor
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Artist's concept of lunar base powered by a Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor
Artist's concept of lunar base powered by a Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor
Artist's concept of the Rolls-Royce lunar nuclear reactor
Artist's concept of the Rolls-Royce lunar nuclear reactor

The UK Space Agency has awarded Rolls-Royce a £2.9-million (US$3.5-million) contract to develop a demonstrator modular nuclear reactor that could be installed on the Moon by 2029 to support permanent human outposts on the lunar surface.

Most spacecraft that operate in the vicinity of Earth are powered by solar panels, but probes that land on the Moon and intend to operate for more than a couple of weeks at most need an alternative power supply. This is because the Moon has nights that last 14 Earth days when the temperature can plummet to -298 °F (-183 °C), which can fatally damage batteries and delicate electronics.

This alternative power supply is usually one based on radio-thermal generators, where the natural decay of radioactive elements like plutonium can provide power to the spacecraft, or can at least keep the equipment warm enough to survive until lunar sunrise.

However, the sort of large installations that future astronauts will need to live and work on the Moon will require large amounts of power at all times on the Moon, regardless of whether there is sunlight or not. That means going beyond radio-thermal generators to proper nuclear fission reactors similar to those used on Earth for domestic and military applications, though scaled down and adapted for lunar conditions.

Artist's concept of the Rolls-Royce lunar nuclear reactor
Artist's concept of the Rolls-Royce lunar nuclear reactor

Rolls-Royce has already been working on its Micro-Reactor program since last year under a UK Space Agency study contract worth £249,000 (US$303,000). The goal now is to build an actual reactor that could one day provide a Moon base with the power needed for communications, life-support, and science experiments, among other applications.

The new modular reactor will be developed with the help of the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC. The program will not only include building the reactor, but also the technology to transfer the heat produced by the reactor and convert it into useful electricity.

Aside from powering a Moon base, Rolls-Royce also sees the technology as having potential terrestrial applications.

"The new tranche of funding from the UK Space Agency means so much for the Rolls-Royce Micro-Reactor Programme," said Abi Clayton, Director of Future Programmes for Rolls-Royce. "We’re proud to work collaboratively with the UK Space Agency and the many UK academic institutions to showcase the best of UK innovation and knowledge in space.

"This funding will bring us further down the road in making the Micro-Reactor a reality, with the technology bringing immense benefits for both space and Earth. The technology will deliver the capability to support commercial and defense use cases alongside providing a solution to decarbonize industry and provide clean, safe and reliable energy."

Source: UK Government

Do we want to pollute the Moon with nuclear waste?
What is wrong with solar cells strategically placed so that one is always in the Sun?
The excess energy from the solar cells can pump water from a lower position to a higher one and energy can be generated by allowing it to descend through a generator. It could even be the same pump and motor that put the water at the highest position.
The Chinese found water beneath the surface of the regolith.
this is REALLY what the world needs right now 😂 😂 😂
Musk ( + etc. ) started all this BS and humanity is
How deep would they have to put this reactor to survive a meteorite strike that could wipe out such a reactor on the moon's surface? Maybe best put reactors in deep lunar caves just in case..
There are 6 at least small reactor programs. US military just released a bid for 3 companies to build similar portable ones for earth and Tesla is building one for space.
Most/all are using pebble bed gas cooled as the lightest, safest as only heats up with lots of the pebbles together. So if it was hit, the moon's surface would likely be more radioactive and space certainly is.
In fact not just meteor protection but radiation protection from the sun, space, it all needs to be underground both buildings and people. Above ground only when needed.
Water weighs 1.39 pounds on the moon, so forget using gravity to create energy in the dark. Besides, you wouldn't have to with a nice SMR. ;)
I'm really bummed that NuScale was relying on Russian fuel, which is no longer available to them.
Response to Lowell:
The potential solutions to managing spent nuclear fuel aside, its interesting to consider the idea of polluting the Moon with nuclear waste when the vacuum-like atmosphere of the Moon means the surface is perpetually exposed to solar winds and cosmic rays bathing it in various forms of ionizing radiation.

A quotation from a NASA Science article titled "Radioactive Moon":
The surface of the Moon is baldly exposed to cosmic rays and solar flares, and some of that radiation is very hard to stop with shielding. Furthermore, when cosmic rays hit the ground, they produce a dangerous spray of secondary particles right at your feet. All this radiation penetrating human flesh can damage DNA, boosting the risk of cancer and other maladies.