The UK Space Agency has pledged funding to Rolls-Royce so it can develop a nuclear reactor for a Moon base for astronauts.
As part of a micro-reactor programme, scientists and engineers at the British company are working to develop technology that will provide power needed for humans to live and work on Earth’s natural satellite.
All space missions depend on a power source to support systems for communications, life-support and science experiments.
Nuclear power could potentially greatly increase the length of lunar missions, experts suggest.
The UK Space Agency has announced £2.9 million ($253 million) in new funding for the project, which will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor.
The announcement comes after a £249,000 study funded by the UK Space Agency in 2022.
“Space exploration is the ultimate laboratory for so many of the transformational technologies we need on Earth: from materials to robotics, nutrition, cleantech and much more,” Science minister George Freeman 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.
“Partnerships like this, between British industry, the UK Space Agency and government, are helping to create jobs across our £16 billion Space Tech sector and help ensure the UK continues to be a major force in frontier science.”
Rolls-Royce plans to have a reactor ready to send to the Moon by 2029.
It will work with a variety of collaborators including the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.
Compared to other power systems, a relatively small and lightweight nuclear micro-reactor could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight and other environmental conditions.
“This funding will bring us further down the road in making the micro-reactor a reality, with the technology bringing immense benefits for both space and Earth,” said Abi Clayton, director of future programmes for Rolls-Royce.
“The technology will deliver the capability to support commercial and defence use cases alongside providing a solution to decarbonise industry and provide clean, safe and reliable energy.”
Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “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.”