BOISE, Idaho (AP) — If anyone has a good idea on how to put a nuclear fission power plant on the moon, the U.S. government wants to hear about it.
NASA and the nation’s top federal nuclear research lab on Friday put out a request for proposals for a fission surface power system.
NASA is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to establish a sun-independent power source for missions to the moon by the end of the decade.
“Providing a reliable, high-power system on the moon is a vital next step in human space exploration, and achieving it is within our grasp,” Sebastian Corbisiero, the Fission Surface Power Project lead at the lab, said in a statement.
Mars would become the next target if it is possible to sustain a human presence on the Moon. NASA believes that the fission-surface power of Mars can provide plenty and sustained power, regardless of environmental conditions.
“I expect fission surface power systems to greatly benefit our plans for power architectures for the moon and Mars and even drive innovation for uses here on Earth,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
It would be constructed on Earth, and sent to the Moon.
The fission surface energy system plans submitted should contain a core uranium-fueled nuclear reactor, a process to turn the nuclear power into useful energy, a thermal management to maintain the reactor at a constant temperature, and a distribution network that provides no less than 40kilowatts continuous electric power over a period of 10 years in the lunar atmosphere.
It must also be able and willing to turn on itself without assistance, operate from a lunar landing platform, and can be taken from its lander to run on a mobile computer and transported to another lunar location for operations.
Additionally, when launched from Earth to the moon, it should fit inside a 12-foot (4-meter) diameter cylinder that’s 18 feet (6 meters) long. The maximum weight of the rocket should be 13,200 pounds (6,600 kilograms).
Requests for proposals must be made by February 19th to receive an initial design.
In the past, NASA has collaborated with Idaho National Laboratory on several projects. Most recently, the lab helped power NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance with a radioisotope power system, which converts heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electrical power.
Mars was landed by the car-sized Rover in February. It has been active since then.
In addition to working together with private business, the Energy Department also has been working on several nuclear power plans. Among them is a new generation small-scale power plants. They range from modular small reactors to mobile small reactors.