Rolls-Royce is working on a micro-reactor program “to develop technology that will provide the energy needed by humans to live and work on the Moon.”
Lorenzo DiCola | Nurphoto | Getty Images
LONDON — Britain’s space agency said on Friday it would support research by Rolls Royce looking at the use of nuclear energy on the moon.
In a statement, the government agency said Rolls-Royce researchers had been working on a micro-reactor program “to develop technology that will provide the energy needed by humans to live and work on the Moon.”
The UKSA will now provide £2.9m (about $3.52m) in funding for the project, which it says would “deliver an early demonstration of a UK Lunar Modular Nuclear Reactor”.
The new money builds on £249,000 provided by the UKSA to fund a study in 2022.
“All space missions depend on a power source, to support communication, life support and science experiment systems,” he said.
“Nuclear energy has the potential to greatly increase the duration of future lunar missions and their scientific value.”
Rolls-Royce is set to work with various organizations on the project, including the University of Sheffield’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing Research and Nuclear AMRC, as well as the University of Oxford.
“The development of space nuclear power offers a unique chance to support innovative technologies and develop our nuclear, science and space engineering skills base,” said Paul Bate, Director General of the UK Space Agency.
Bate added that Rolls-Royce’s research “could lay the foundations for a continued human presence on the Moon, while improving the wider UK space sector, creating jobs and generating new investment”.
According to the UKSA, Rolls-Royce — not to be confused with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is owned by BMW – aims “to have a reactor ready to be sent to the Moon by 2029”.
Dhara Patel, a space expert at the National Space Center in Leicester, England, told CNBC that humans returning to the moon would need “a reliable power source” for astronauts to “live and work. on our lunar neighbor for long-term missions”.
“Solar power would seem like an obvious choice, but the Moon’s rotation translates to a two-week day followed by a fortnight of darkness or night – that’s not ideal,” Patel continued.
“With little air and no liquid water on the surface, other renewable energy sources are not possible,” she said. “Nuclear power could allow a continuous power source regardless of the physical environment and conditions on the lunar surface.”
Using nuclear power on the moon, Patel noted, could increase the lifespan of lunar missions.
“What will require particular attention is the nuclear fuel that will be used to generate heat, how it will be sourced responsibly, and how efficiently new technology will generate electricity from process and manage radioactive waste.”
“The additional UKSA funding will hopefully allow Rolls-Royce to explore these areas and develop the best possible systems.”
The news from the UK comes at a time when NASA is advancing its Artemis programwhich focuses on creating what it calls a “sustainable presence on the Moon to prepare for missions to Mars.”
NASA is working with international and commercial partners on Artemis. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.