by Paul Godfrey
Washington DC (UPI) Mar 17, 2021
Britain is pinning its hopes on nuclear power becoming the energy source that will fuel the next phase of human exploration of the moon, the country's space agency said Friday.
Announcing $3.5 million funding for Roll Royce research into how nuclear could be used to power a manned base on the moon, the U.K. Space Agency said the technology would provide the power for humans to live and work on the lunar surface, dramatically increasing the duration of missions.
The agency said the funding was for Rolls Royce to deliver an initial demonstration of a lunar modular nuclear reactor based around the company's existing Micro Reactor technology, with a working reactor ready to send to moon by 2029.
"All space missions depend on a power source, to support systems for communications, life-support and science experiments. Nuclear power has the potential to dramatically increase the duration of future lunar missions and their scientific value," it added.
Rolls Royce said the latest funding round was highly significant for its Micro-Reactor which, compact and lightweight compared with other power systems, is capable of generating continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and environmental conditions.
"We're proud to work collaboratively with the U.K. Space Agency and the many U.K. academic institutions to showcase the best of U.K. innovation and knowledge in space," said Rolls Royce Director of Future Programs Abi Clayton.
"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."
Science, Innovation and Technology Minister George Freeman said nuclear space power was anticipated to create new skilled jobs across the Britain that would support its fledgling space economy.
"Space exploration is the ultimate laboratory for so many of the transformational technologies we need on Earth: from materials to robotics, nutrition, cleantech and much more," said Freeman.
The partnership with Rolls-Royce comes two weeks after the agency announced $62 million of funding for British companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the moon, as part of the European Space Agency's Moonlight program.
Moonlight aims to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the moon.
The satellites will allow astronauts, rovers, science experiments and other equipment to communicate, share large data streams including high-definition video, and navigate safely on the surface of the moon.
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