The Associated Press reported that NASA is working with U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to create the power source, independent from the sun, 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.
Proposals will be accepted until February 19. The plan is to build the reactor on Earth, then send it to the moon.
Fission surface power systems could provide sustained power no matter the moon’s environmental conditions, according to AP. If the power plant is successful on the moon, NASA’s next goal would be to put one on Mars.
“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.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Submitted plans for the fission surface power system should include a uranium-fueled reactor core, a system to convert the nuclear power into usable energy, a thermal management system to keep the reactor cool, and a distribution system providing no less than 40 kilowatts of continuous electric power for 10 years in the lunar environment.
Some other requirements include that it be capable of turning itself off and on without human help, that it be able to operate from the deck of a lunar lander, and that it can be removed from the lander and run on a mobile system and be transported to a different lunar site for operation.
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. It should not weigh more than 13,200 pounds (6,000 kilograms).
The Idaho National Laboratory has worked with NASA on various projects in the past. 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.
The car-sized rover landed on Mars in February and has remained active on the red planet.
The Energy Department has also been working to team up with private businesses on various nuclear power plans, notably on a new generation of smaller power plants that range from small modular reactors to small mobile reactors that can quickly be set up in the field and then removed when not needed.