Nuclear moon

Almost half a century on from the first moon landings we’re seeing a huge resurgence of interest in the lunar landscape.

The latest development is that NASA is planning to put a nuclear reactor on the moon.

Kilopower, NASA’s “mobile nuclear fission reactor”, can kick out ten kilowatts of electrical power continuously for ten years.

From NASA:

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

​Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power – enough to run several average households – continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

NASA sees this reactor as an essential part of future missions to Mars and beyond.

“Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Marc Gibson, one of the key people working on the project.

“When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that’s going to require a new class of power that we’ve never needed before.”

You’d think the moon would be the perfect place for solar power to flourish. It has no clouds to get in the way of the sun’s rays. It barely even has an atmosphere.

However, it just doesn’t see that much of the sun. One night on the moon lasts as long as 14 days on Earth.

This makes it the perfect place for a self-contained nuclear power source. As long as that power source doesn’t malfunction.

But the team are confident it should stand up to the rigours of space travel.

 “We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and [it] passed with flying colors,” said David Poston, [the chief reactor designer].

“No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well,” said Gibson.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk is building a 16-storey high rocket he hopes will ultimately be able to carry up to 100 passengers and tons of cargo to Mars.

From Business Insider on Sunday:

In December, a giant white tent appeared at the Port of Los Angeles. A routine permit suggested that SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, was using the roughly 20,000-square-foot $500,000 facility as a “storage tent.”

But Musk revealed the tent’s true purpose a few months later. Inside, his engineers are building a colossal interplanetary spacecraft called BFR, the Big Falcon Rocket (or, as Musk has said, Big F—ing Rocket).

On Thursday, SpaceX announced it had selected the first private passenger to be launched in the BFR. That person, whose identity is set to be revealed on Monday, will fly around the moon, the company said.

The BFR project and its immediate lunar goalposts mark the incredible and plainly unorthodox beginning of an effort by SpaceX to colonize Mars. Though Musk may announce a moon-mission launch date on Monday, his larger goal, which he has described as “aspirational,” is to launch an uncrewed cargo mission to the red planet in 2022, followed by human missions in 2024.

And while NASA has developed and tested its nuclear moon reactor, Musk’s BFR is still very much in the building stage.

Still, Musk is confident he can get a prototype BFR up and running by the end of next year.

According to SpaceX’s COO, there will be a series of short “hop” tests with the finished prototype in late 2019.

So we have NASA aiming to set up nuclear power plants on the moon and Mars, and Elon Musk making a 16-storey rocket to take hundreds of people to the moon.

This century’s space race is setting up to be every bit as exciting as the last one.

If you want to know more about the ridiculous engineering difficulties SpaceX is having to overcome to get its BFR ready, I can recommend that Business Insider article I linked. It covers everything in a lot of detail.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

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Category: Technology

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