NASA and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) are collaborating to advance space nuclear technologies. The agencies have chosen three design concept proposals for a fission surface power system that could be ready for launch by the end of the decade for a moon demonstration. This technology would be useful for future Artemis exploration.
The contracts, which will be awarded through the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, are each worth around $5 million. The contracts will fund the development of preliminary design concepts for a 40-kilowatt class fission power system that will operate in the lunar environment for at least ten years.
Fission systems, which are relatively small and lightweight in comparison to other power systems, are reliable and could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, or other natural environmental conditions. Such a demonstration on the moon would pave the way for long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.
“New technology drives our exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate associate administrator. “Creating these preliminary designs will assist us in laying the groundwork for powering our long-term human presence on other worlds.”
The Idaho National Laboratory’s managing and operating contractor, Battelle Energy Alliance, led the Request for Proposal development, evaluation, and procurement, which was sponsored by NASA. Idaho National Laboratory will award the following companies 12-month contracts to develop preliminary designs:
- Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Maryland, will collaborate with BWXT and Creare.
- IX of Houston, Texas, a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-Energy—The company will partner with Maxar and Boeing.
- Westinghouse of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania—The company will partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne.
“The Fission Surface Power project is a very realistic first step toward the United States establishing nuclear power on the moon,” Idaho National Laboratory Director John Wagner said. “I’m excited to see what each of these teams accomplishes.”
The Phase 1 awards will provide NASA with critical industry information that could lead to the joint development of a fully flight-certified fission power system. Fission surface power technologies will also aid NASA in the development of nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These systems could be used for missions to deep space.