NASA aims to launch a mini nuclear reactor on the Moon within the next decade, in order to experiment with the use of nuclear energy to power future lunar bases and push exploration towards Mars: for this reason it has started to collect ideas and proposals through a call for tenders for American companies, promoted in collaboration with the US Department of Energy (Doe).
The space agency claims that nuclear fission (together with solar panels, batteries and fuel cells) will be able to provide the energy necessary to power rovers, conduct experiments, produce water, fuels and other essential goods for the survival of astronauts on the moon. The availability of energy "will be the key to future space exploration", explains Jim Reuter, associate administrator of the direction of NASA's space technology mission.
"I expect nuclear fission systems to greatly benefit our energy infrastructure plans for the Moon and Mars and can even drive innovation for uses here on Earth."
The nuclear reactor will have to be compact and light, to be able to operate autonomously even astride a lander or a lunar rover.
It will also have to produce at least 40 kilowatts, equal to the energy needs of 30 homes for ten years.