The new plan assumes return to the moon in 2025. This will take place as part of the Artemis program, the 21st-century continuation of the famous Apollo program. NASA has the first nuclear reactors ready for use on Mars or the Moon, but the government has decided to announce competition for the construction of a new reactormuch more powerful and reliable.
The plan is for the lunar reactor to be available in two versions. The first with a power of 10 kW and the second with a capacity of at least 40 kW. The former will be used by landers and rovers. Meanwhile, the second is to run unattended for 10 years, be 4 meters in diameter, 6 meters in length and weigh up to 6 tons. NASA noted that designers must take into account the fact that they have reactors operate continuously under extreme conditions, i.e. high and low temperature and high dustiness with regolith.
Scientists would like to install this larger reactor in one of the gloomy lying craters near the south pole of the moon. This is where the first colony is to be built and the inauguration of the era of space mining. NASA asks the designers of the lunar reactor to present their ideas for its safe transport to the natural satellite of our planet.
It will not be an easy task as such devices are very delicate by nature. We can expect him to join the project for sure Elon Muskas his Starship will be able to deliver dozens of such reactors to the moon in one fell swoop. The first of the larger reactors is expected to appear on the Moon by the end of the 1920s.
However, NASA already has it at its disposal Kilopower, that is, a compact nuclear reactor. Some time ago, the project received the Gears of Government President’s Award Winners, which is one of the most important awards given by the President of the United States. The agency announced that as early as 2025 it would be ready to send it to the Moon or Mars and conduct experiments related to it there. The agency does not rule out the support of SpaceX in this matter.
Kilopower’s role will be to provide electricity to powering lunar or martian bases, their heating and energy supply for the operation of equipment and devices. This is to happen for the first missions. The space mobile nuclear reactor has been successfully tested in recent months by engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The reactor is maintenance-free, has a power of 10 to 40 kilowatts, and without any maintenance is able to provide electricity to two homes for 10 years. In the core of the reactor there is uranium-235. It is surrounded by a beryllium oxide shell that captures the neutrons and reflects them back to the core, improving the efficiency of the self-regulating fission reaction. The reactor operation is controlled by a single rod with boron carbide.
The heat from the reactor is collected and transferred via passive sodium-filled heat pipes. They provide heat to the a set of high-performance Stirling engines. They are closed-loop engines and operate on temperature differentials that cause the piston to move back and forth, much like a piston in an internal combustion engine, albeit with a compressible gaseous medium rather than an explosive gasoline-air mixture. At the same time, it cools the reactor with a heat sink (looking like an umbrella), and also drives a generator to the target electricity generation.
The design of the reactors is modular. This allows you to network a few of them and generate much more of the needed electricity for a large base. So the first Moon and Mars colonizers will have all the energy they need at their disposal.