There hasn’t been a man on the moon in almost 50 years but NASA has revealed a new plan that, if successful, could see human beings live on the Moon long-term in the near future.
Along with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the space agency put out a request on Friday, November 19 to American companies to pitch concept designs of a “fission surface power system” as part of its Artemis programme to put people back on the Moon, and eventually, Mars.
The hope is to design a reactor that could be launched and running on the Moon’s surface within the decade. And, if all goes well, astronauts could eventually spend up to two months at a time living on the Moon, using it as a jumping-off point for missions further into the solar system. .
“Fission surface power – in conjunction with solar cells, batteries, and fuel cells – can provide the power to operate rovers, conduct experiments, and use the Moon’s resources to produce water, propellant, and other supplies for life support,” NASA said.
The agency’s call for proposals includes some ideas of what a potential reactor could look like. For now, the system would have to be small and lightweight, easily transportable, and be able to generate up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power, enough to cater to the electricity demands of several average households.
The power would be used to run life support systems, charge lunar rovers, landers and conduct research.
On top of it all, the reactor would have to be fully autonomous. It “cannot rely on any external power or robotic support, nor astronaut involvement for system startup, shutdown, operation, or maintenance,” NASA stated .
As a result, the produced energy should be able to sustain a lunar presence and also support exploration and potential colonization of Mars.
Companies interested in submitting a pitch have until February 19, 2022, the brief states, after which NASA and DOE will select the ones that look most promising and help develop them over the next year.
“The feedback and enthusiasm we continue to see for space nuclear power systems has been very exciting, and understandably so,” says senior engineer Sebastian Corbisiero, the Fission Surface Power Project lead at the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory in the press brief.
“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.
The announcement comes after NASA to launch DART, a SpaceX rocket that will crash into an asteroid at high speed to deflect it away from Earth, as its first-of-its-kind planetary defence, Tuesday night.
For tonight’s test, DART will target an asteroid whose size is a tiny fraction of the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that slammed into Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and most of the planet’s animal species. It is not on a path that will cause it to hit Earth in the foreseeable future.