As humanity resets its gaze toward Moon, British aerospace company Rolls-Royce Holdings is continuing its work on developing nuclear power sources for spaceflight and exploration. Today, the company announced funding from the U.K. Space Agency to further research and develop a nuclear reactor that’s meant to power a future base on the Moon.
The U.K. Space Agency provided Rolls-Royce Holdings with £2.9 million, which is about $3.5 million USD, according to a press release from the agency. Rolls-Royce elaborated in its release that the funding will be to specifically study the fuel that the reactor will use to generate heat, study ways to transfer that heat, and evaluate the technologies needed to transform that heat into electricity. The reactor could be used to power rovers, communications systems, and science experiments on the lunar surface. Rolls-Royce hopes to have the nuclear reactor ready to send to the Moon by 2029.
“As we prepare to see humans return to the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years, we are backing exciting research like this lunar modular reactor with Rolls-Royce to pioneer new power sources for a lunar base,” said George Freeman, minister of state at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, in the U.K. Space Agency’s press release.
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Rolls-Royce teased the design of a nuclear reactor for spaceflight on Twitter early last month. Nuclear reactors have been used to power things like submarines for years, but the tech’s application for spaceflight has been oft overlooked in favor of chemical-based propulsion. A functional version of the recently unveiled micro-reactor mockup would be primarily used for spaceflight, but the company did mention at the time that the design could be used for bases on the Moon.
Rolls-Royce Holdings is no stranger to engineering nuclear reactors, having secured a contract in 2012 with the U.K. Ministry of Defense to implement a nuclear reactor in the ministry’s Successor submarine. And in fact, the company’s involvement with nuclear-powered submarines dates back to the 1960s. In 2021, Rolls-Royce Holdings secured $600 million in public and private funding for its continued work in the nuclear reactor industry.
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The company—not to be confused with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is owned by BMW—used this money to first begin developing “low cost, low carbon nuclear power technology,” as the company explained in a 2021 press release. These Small Modular Reactors would be here on Earth, however, and the company claims that the power stations would occupy the area of two soccer fields and be capable of powering one million homes.
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