Small fuel cells could power nuclear reactors on the Moon
Image credit: Rolls Royce
Bangor University researchers have developed small nuclear fuel cells that could sustain life on the Moon for long periods of time.
The team of researchers, based in north Wales, have been working in partnership with Rolls Royce to develop a source of energy that could sustain long stays on the Earth’s satellite.
Using TRISO particles, they designed Trisofuel, a small nuclear cell that could power the carmakers’ micro nuclear generator.
The generator is a portable device the size of a small car and “something you can stick on a rocket,” said the university’s Professor Simon Middleburgh, from the Nuclear Futures Institute. Trisofuel has now been sent to the researchers’ partners for further testing.
Nuclear power has the potential to dramatically increase the duration of future lunar missions and their scientific value as it can provide the energy necessary to support systems for communications, life support and science experiments.
However, power sources have been particularly difficult to transport to outer space. For this reason, Rolls-Royce’s vision of a relatively small and lightweight nuclear micro-reactor could be the key to enabling continuous power, regardless of location, available sunlight and other environmental conditions.
Middleburgh told the BBC the work was a challenge “but it was a fun one”.
“On the Moon and on planetary bodies that have day and night, we can no longer rely on the Sun for energy and therefore must design systems such as the small micro-reactor to sustain life,” he said.
“Nuclear power is the only way we currently have to provide the power for that length of space travel. The fuel must be extremely robust and survive the forces of launch, and then be dependable for many years.”
Nuclear space power is anticipated to create new skilled jobs across the UK to support the burgeoning UK space economy, which is said to be worth £16bn.
Interest in the Moon’s resources and its potential use as a base for future space explorations has been increasing over the past few years. Last month, India became the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon after its $75m (£59m) Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft touched ground in a previously unexplored region of the natural satellite.
The achievement took place just days after Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft – designed to reach this location first – crashed into the Moon.
Last year, Nasa successfully launched its Artemis spacecraft as part of a mission to take humans back to the Moon. The agency has also revealed its hopes of landing humans on Mars sometime in the 2030s as part of its Moon to Mars programme.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.