The UK Space Agency has provided funding to Rolls-Royce into how nuclear power could be used to support a future Moon base for astronauts.
Specialists at Rolls-Royce are engaged in developing a “Micro-Reactor” program, a key technology to help sustain future Moon missions and enhance their scientific value.
The UK Space Agency has announced $3.5 million (£2.9 million) of new funding for the project which will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor. This follows an over $300,000 (£249,000) study funded by the UK Space Agency in 2022.
According to a company statement, Rolls-Royce plan to have a reactor ready for transport to the Moon by 2029.
Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, a nuclear micro-reactor for the Moon could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other environmental conditions.
Rolls-Royce will be working alongside a variety of collaborators including the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC.
The funding enables Rolls-Royce to focus on three key features of the Micro-Reactor: the fuel used to generate heat, the method of heat transfer and technology to convert that heat into electricity, according to a company statement.
The aim of the research work – beyond Moon needs — is to create a power and propulsion capability for multiple markets and operator needs.
Increasing lunar stay-time
Scientists and engineers at Rolls-Royce are working on the Micro-Reactor program to further technology that will provide power needed for humans to live and work on the Moon. 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.
The UK Space Agency announced the $3.5 million (£2.9 million) of new funding for the project which will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor. This follows an over $300,000 (£249,000) study funded by the UK Space Agency in 2022.
The aim is to create a world-leading power and propulsion capability for multiple markets and operator needs, alongside a clean, green and long-term power source.
Further down the road
Abi Clayton, Director of Future Programs for Rolls-Royce said: “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 decarbonise industry and provide clean, safe and reliable energy.”
The partnership with Rolls-Royce comes after the UK Space Agency recently announced over $60 million (£51 million) of funding available for UK companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon, as part of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight program, which aims to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the Moon.
Those Moon-circling satellites would allow future astronauts, rovers, science experiments and other equipment to communicate, share large amounts of data including high-definition video, and navigate safely across the lunar surface.
In a related development, earlier this week, as part of the AUKUS trilateral agreement between Australia, the UK and the US, it was announced that Rolls-Royce Submarines Ltd will provide reactors for Australia’s nuclear powered submarines.
For video on this lunar power source, go to: