US researchers have come up with a new design for a nuclear power plant. The goal? Send a test reactor to the moon in a few years. However, its design and installation represent a real challenge. On the other hand, it is a technology whose ultimate goal would be to contribute to the colonization of Mars.
Testing a reactor on the moon
When we talk about a lunar colony or a Martian colony, we are inevitably talking about establishing a base. However, this base will have to be supplied with energy. But what resource should we use? Probes and rovers regularly carry solar panels, a renewable source already very present on the surface of the Earth. However, installing thousands of panels — especially on Mars — would be too complicated. Indeed, sandstorms can plunge the installations into darkness. In addition, batteries do not last forever and their replacement is problematic.
At the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) Idaho National Laboratory, researchers are working on a new type of nuclear power plant. As Design and Development Today explains in an article from July 27, 2020, it is about testing a first reactor on the Moon
A possible solution for Mars
It should be noted that since the mid-2000s, NASA has been working on the design of a lunar reactor capable of delivering 10 kW. After many twists and turns, the engineers finally managed to get a 5 kW reactor running. At the end of July 2020, the Department of Energy issued a call for tenders sparking renewed interest in NASA’s initial project.
In its appeal, the DoE says it wants to acquire a surface system using atom fission capable of allowing humans to live for long periods in space. The first phase of the program consists of developing a proof of concept for the reactor. The second will aim to send a test reactor to the Moon in 2026. In addition, this involves studying in parallel a means of transporting the reactor to our satellite. Finally, if this technology really proves its worth, the United States will seriously consider an application on the Red Planet.
If all goes as planned, the famous reactor will be tested soon after the humans return to the moon. This return will take place as part of the Artemis mission in 2024. Future missions will be carried out to establish an actual base on the Moon, but NASA does not appear to have chosen the area of establishment yet.