Commercial nuclear innovation "new space" age

April 26, 2024, 3:03PMNuclear NewsAlex Gilbert, Harsh S. Desai, and Jake Matthews
Astronaut Alan Bean prepares fueling of a Pu-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generator during the Apollo 12 mission to the lunar surface. (Photo: NASA)

In early 2006, a start-up company launched a small rocket from a tiny island in the Pacific. It exploded, showering the island with debris. A year later, a second launch attempt sent a rocket to space but failed to make orbit, burning up in the atmosphere. Another year brought a third attempt—and a third failure. The following month, in September 2008, the company used the last of its funds to launch a fourth rocket. It reached orbit, making history as the first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to do so.

Radiant horizons: Fission surface power on the moon, Mars, and beyond

April 12, 2024, 7:02AMNuclear NewsLindsay Kaldon
A concept image of NASA’s Fission Surface Power Project. (Image: NASA)

Imagine what our world would be like today without the benefits of electric energy. Think of the inventions and technologies that never would have been. Think of a world without power grids and the electricity that makes them run. Without this power, we’d find it difficult to maintain our industrial and manufacturing bases or enable advancements in the fields of medicine, communications, and computing.

Now consider the moon, our closest celestial neighbor about which we still know so little, waiting for modern-day explorers in spacesuits to unveil its secrets. Lunar exploration and a future lunar economy require reliable, long-lasting, clean sources of power. Nuclear fission answers that call. When assessing the application of nuclear power in space, three Ps should be considered: the present, the potential, and the partnerships.

Nations envision nuclear reactors on the moon

March 25, 2024, 12:02PMANS Nuclear Cafe


Russian space agency Roscosmos has announced its intention to build a nuclear reactor on the lunar surface in collaboration with the China National Space Administration. According to Roscosmos director general Yury Borisov, “Today we are seriously considering a project—somewhere at the turn of 2033–2035—to deliver and install a [nuclear] power unit on the lunar surface together with our Chinese colleagues.” The reactor would apparently be used to supply power to the Russian-Chinese International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), plans for which the two nations unveiled in 2021.

These plans come on top of previously announced plans of the United States and United Kingdom for lunar nuclear reactors.

ANS Winter Meeting: Space—the next nuclear frontier

November 15, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News

Put nuclear technology in space or on the moon, and just as on Earth it can provide a power density unmatched by any other source. But what roles can nuclear power and propulsion play as the world enters a 21st-century space race? That was a key question put to six speakers during the November 14 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting plenary session “Space: The (Next) Nuclear Frontier.”

NASA partners with companies for moon and exploration technology

July 27, 2023, 7:02AMNuclear News
Concept art showing Project Harmonia’s RSG for lunar surface missions. (Image: Zeno Power)

NASA has selected 11 companies, including Zeno Power, to develop technologies that could support long-term exploration on the moon and in space. The technologies range from lunar surface power systems to tools for in-space 3D printing, which will expand industry capabilities for a sustained human presence on the moon through the Artemis program, as well as other NASA, government, and commercial missions.

Westinghouse, Astrobotic team up on lunar plans for eVinci microreactor

June 5, 2023, 12:01PMNuclear News
(Photo: Nielander/WikiCommons)

Westinghouse Electric Company says its eVinci microreactor technology is “100 percent factory built and assembled before it is shipped in a container to any location.” And “any location” is not restricted to planet Earth, given the company’s goal of sending a scaled-down version of eVinci to the lunar surface or on a mission to provide power in other space applications.

Atoms: Space travel plans

April 26, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News

Earthbound air travel can be a hassle, even for careful planners. So if you’re heading to the Moon or beyond, it’s time to shift your planning into hyperdrive. Our advice, when there’s no guidebook, no proven vehicle, and your destination is a moving target? Don’t forget to pack your nuclear power bank.

The Argonaut mission: Paving the way for European nuclear use in space

April 18, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear NewsGrzegorz Ambroszkiewicz, Alexander Getimis, and Paloma Villar

Long-duration missions with limited solar exposure need a reliable power source to operate. This makes nuclear power sources (NPSs) an attractive alternative to solar energy for such missions. The implementation of the ESA Safety Policy on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources by the European Space Agency’s Independent Safety Office (ISO) provides a framework for ensuring the safe use of NPSs and sets a standard for future ESA missions. This article provides an overview of how the ISO is implementing the policy in the development and operation of the Argonaut mission, which serves as a valuable case study for understanding the practical application of the ESA safety policy and the importance of ensuring the safe use of NPSs in space.

Atoms for space

April 17, 2023, 12:01PMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Dear member:

Hello from our temporary headquarters in Downers Grove, Ill. Yes, after two years of twists and turns, we have finally completed the sale of our legacy La Grange Park property and are in the process of building out our new space, which will be ready for occupancy later this year.

I know many of you have memories made in “the Schoolhouse,” which served as American Nuclear Society headquarters for nearly 50 years. At one time during the golden age of paper recordkeeping, it housed nearly 100 employees. As the business of running a professional society evolved with the information age, however, so too did our workforce and space needs. Stately though it was, 555 Kensington Avenue proved simply too expensive to heat, cool, mow, plow, and otherwise maintain to an acceptable standard.

Nuclear science and technology in space

April 12, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear NewsSteven Arndt

Steven Arndt

Anyone who has heard me speak about the American Nuclear Society recently knows that I like to remind people of the ANS mission and vision statements. I invite people to read the exact words: Our mission is to “advance, foster, and spur the development and application of nuclear science, engineering, and technology to benefit society”; our vision is to see “nuclear technology . . . embraced for its vital contributions to improving peoples’ lives and preserving our planet.”

The meaning behind these statements is that ANS is here to help the profession save the world. I take that seriously: We are here to save the world. This month, Nuclear News is focusing on nuclear science, engineering, and technology’s role in space exploration both now and in the future. When we look at our mission, this is very fitting. The use of nuclear power systems in space goes back almost to the start of ANS. In 1961, the Transit 4A satellite became the first U.S. spacecraft to be powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Combined with solar cells, RTGs have been used on the Moon and on satellites and to explore the solar system and beyond. One of the interesting things about these power sources is that they were used to provide both provide electricity and heat to keep the systems they were supporting from freezing. Since then, additional nuclear systems have been designed and developed—including fission power reactors and nuclear thermal propulsion—that will provide significantly more power and faster space journeys.

Challenges facing our space nuclear future

April 11, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear NewsSara M. Sanders, Mikaela Blood, and Lisa D. May

Lisa D. May

Mikaela Blood

Sara M. Sanders

At the advent of space nuclear power in the 1960s, the combination of fundamental nuclear principles and first-of-its-kind spacecraft technology were the largest barriers to entry. In the modern era, however, nuclear power production and space technology have matured industries and no longer present major challenges. These days, the biggest hurdles are advanced flexible technology development, regulations and policy, and public perception, and these issues must be successfully navigated to clear the way for a nuclear future in space.

Space needs a few good nukes

April 6, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

We might actually be going back to the Moon . . . and then, on to Mars.

The Artemis program has been developed by NASA to accomplish this. Using innovative technologies, NASA will establish the first long-term human presence on the Moon, allowing a team of astronauts to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.

With what is learned from the Artemis missions, NASA will take the next giant leap: sending the first astronauts to Mars. This goal is for scientific discovery and the economic and technological benefits that have always come from the space program, but it will also inspire a new generation of explorers: the Artemis Generation.

DARPA’s nuclear rocket demo gets a boost from NASA’s Mars ambitions

January 24, 2023, 3:02PMNuclear News
Artist’s concept of the DRACO spacecraft, which will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine. (Image: DARPA)

NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have announced they will collaborate on plans to launch and test DARPA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO). DARPA has already worked with private companies on the baseline design for a fission reactor and rocket engine—and the spacecraft that will serve as an in-orbit test stand—and has solicited proposals for the next phase of work. Now NASA is climbing on board, deepening its existing ties to DRACO’s work in nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) technology—an “enabling capability” required for NASA to meet its Moon to Mars Objectives and send crewed missions to Mars. NASA and DARPA representatives announced the development at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum in National Harbor, Md., on January 24.

Artemis I mannequin crew outfitted with dosimeters for trip around the moon

November 18, 2022, 6:53AMNuclear News
A rendering of Helga and Zohar side by side aboard the Orion spacecraft. (Image: NASA/Lockheed Martin/DLR)

NASA’s Artemis I mission, successfully launched at 1:47 a.m. EST on November 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will travel 40,000 miles beyond the moon—farther from Earth than any human-crewed space mission has flown before. The historic trip was launched by the world’s largest rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), nearly 50 years after NASA last sent humans to the moon. And while no humans are on board the Orion spacecraft, two fabricated crew members—“Luna Twins” Helga and Zohar—were assembled with thousands of sensors to obtain the best estimates yet of cosmic radiation exposure to human tissues during space travel.

Nuclear power’s moonshot: Three teams have one year to design a lunar power reactor

June 22, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
A conceptual illustration of a fission surface power system. (Image: NASA)

Three teams have been picked to design a fission surface power system that NASA could deploy on the moon by the end of the decade, NASA and Idaho National Laboratory announced today. A fission surface power project sponsored by NASA in collaboration with the Department of Energy and INL is targeting the demonstration of a 40-kWe reactor built to operate for at least 10 years on the moon, enabling lunar exploration under NASA’s Artemis program. Twelve-month contracts valued at $5 million each are going to Lockheed Martin (partnered with BWX Technologies and Creare), Westinghouse (partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne), and IX (a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-energy, partnered with Maxar and Boeing).

Countdown to fission on the moon: Candidate designs wanted

November 23, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
Artist’s concept of a fission surface power system on Mars. (Image: NASA)

NASA and Idaho National Laboratory have just opened a competitive solicitation for U.S. nuclear and space industry leaders to develop innovative technologies for a fission surface power system that could be deployed on the surface of the moon by the end of the decade. Battelle Energy Alliance, the managing and operating contractor for INL, issued a request for proposals and announced the news on November 19. Proposals are due February 17.

As Perseverance makes tracks, NASA must plan its next Mars move

March 10, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover took its first drive on the surface of Mars on March 4, traversing 21.3 feet and executing a 150-degree turn in about 33 minutes. The drive was one part of an ongoing check and calibration of every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance, which landed on Mars on February 18.

The NASA team has also verified the functionality of Perseverance’s instruments, deployed two wind sensors, and unstowed the rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.

With relatively little fanfare, the functionality of Perseverance’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG)—assembled at Idaho National Laboratory and fueled by the decay of plutonium-238—is also being proved. It is reliably providing the power that Perseverance’s mechanical and communication systems require.

One small step for fission—on the Moon and beyond

July 27, 2020, 12:02PMNuclear News

A reliable energy source is critical for long-duration space exploration. NASA, targeting launch readiness by the end of 2026, has teamed up with the Department of Energy and Idaho National Laboratory to solicit realistic assessments of fission surface power systems designed for deployment on the Moon that could, with little modification, be sent to Mars as well.