Rolls-Royce, following up on its development of nuclear power for submarines, received government funding for the development of a micro-reactor that would power a base on the moon.
The lunar reactor would use existing fission power in a system that would be hoped to substantially increase how long humans can remain on the moon, The Times of London reported Friday. The fission power used would create radioactive waste, even though the reactor would be smaller and lighter than other power sources.
Rolls-Royce signed an agreement with the government two years ago to study nuclear power and its use for space propulsion, and won $3.5 million from the UK Space Agency to develop a demonstration of a nuclear reactor that could provide electricity for use at a lunar base.
Science Minister George Freeman said the government is "backing exciting research like this lunar modular reactor with Rolls-Royce to pioneer new power sources for a lunar base."
Rolls-Royce said it wants to complete the first reactor by 2028 so it can launch by 2030. It tweeted images in January of its micro-reactor design, calling it an "inherently safe and extremely robust fuel form."
The device's design is rooted in the work for the company's submarine division but is being adapted for use on the moon.
It's separate from the company's plans for Earth-bound small modular reactors, or "mini-nuclear power plants." Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in budget discussions that there is competition for the small reactors and that the government would co-fund the technology if it is shown to be viable.
Several companies worldwide are developing reactors, but they have yet to be built for commercial use.
Meanwhile, NASA, with its plans to land astronauts on the moon in 2025 through the Artemis program, has picked out three designs for a lunar nuclear power system, and China wants to have a nuclear-powered base on the moon ready by 2028.
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