Rolls-Royce secures funding to develop lunar nuclear reactor
Rolls-Royce plans to have nuclear reactor ready to be sent to the Moon by 2029
Rolls-Royce announced on Friday that it secured £2.9 million, or $3.5 million, from the U.K. Space Agency to develop a nuclear reactor to power a base on the Moon.
The British company is known for designing, developing, manufacturing and servicing integrated power systems for air, land and sea use and operates its business in civil aerospace, power systems and defense.
The power systems segment of the business includes engines, power systems and nuclear systems for power generation, while the defense segment consists of military aero engines, naval engines, submarines and more.
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Now the company’s scientists and engineers are taking on "the final frontier" by working on a micro-reactor program to develop technology required for humans to live and work in a lunar environment.
According to a press release from the UK Space Agency, nuclear power can increase the longevity of future missions on the Moon.
The £2.9 million in funding from the agency is intended to be used by Rolls-Royce in the development and demonstration of a modular nuclear reactor for the Moon, and it follows a £249,000, or $304,000 study funded by the UK Space Agency last year.
"Space exploration is the ultimate laboratory for so many of the transformational technologies we need on Earth: from materials to robotics, nutrition, clean tech and much more," George Freeman, the minister of state at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology said. "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."
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By 2029, if all goes as planned, Rolls-Royce will have a reactor ready to be launched to the Moon.
By concept, a nuclear micro-reactor will be small and lightweight compared to other power systems and could provide power regardless of environmental conditions and location.
And Rolls-Royce is not working alone in this endeavor. In fact, they are working with the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC.
Funding will allow Rolls-Royce to investigate heat transfer methods, technology that can covert the heat into power, and fuel needed to generate heat.
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It will also allow Rolls-Royce to create a type of energy that is compatible in multiple markets that is clean and green.
"We are backing technology and capabilities to support ambitious space exploration missions and boost sector growth across the U.K.," Dr. Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency said. "Developing space nuclear power offers a unique chance to support innovative technologies and grow our nuclear, science and space engineering skills base.
"This innovative research by Rolls-Royce could lay the groundwork for powering continuous human presence on the Moon, while enhancing the wider UK space sector, creating jobs and generating further investment."
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The U.K. Space Agency is developing communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon and plans to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the lunar mass.