NASA is partnering with the Department of Energy to push for the approval plans seeking to establish a complex nuclear power mechanism that will sustain the upcoming moon and Mars navigation missions. NASA officials admitted that they will be giving out their proposals for the first half of the Fission Surface Power project. The agency outlined this to its Technology, Innovation, and Engineering Committee that constitutes the NASA Advisory Council.
This project will facilitate the delivery of a regular power system for the upcoming lunar mission before 2027. This move will catalyze the quick development of the systems that will navigate the moon for a longer period and that can survive in the usual fortnight on the moon when the solar power is not reliable.
The NASA nuclear energy development manager in the Space Technology Mission docket, Anthony Calomino, submitted to the committee that this is the only reliable energy source, especially in the two-week trying period. He added that the mission to the moon will give the agency a rare chance of testing, designing, and evaluating the viability of this technology for the Martian and the deep space missions.
In the past, NASA collaborated with the Department of Energy in a similar space nuclear energy project, Kilopower, which showcased its ingenuity to run a one-kilowatt system two years ago. This program utilized high quality uranium which made the system lighter and faster in its maneuverability.
Nevertheless, the international community expressed their insecurity over the preparation of the highly enriched uranium (HEU). The nations argued that the country with huge deposits of the uranium will start developing nuclear weapons and therefore threaten the countries less-endowed or lacking this material. Calomino stated that the two partners are considering the use of low enriched uranium instead of the initial material. The concern for scientists is that this new strategy might make the space system heavy and prove to be less efficient.
Calomino stated that the new nuclear energy proposal outlines the variations of the HEU like LEU and HALEU which have the same capacity as HEU but at the expense of the high mass of the propellant. The Department of Energy has been sniffing around for plausible ideas that can help realize a breakthrough in the nuclear power energy project. The department went ahead to hold meetings with nuclear energy experts from Blue Origin, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and other firms.
In conclusion, Calomino stated that they are working towards the development of an integrated system that can run on this potentially explosive energy. This move is enough for the two agencies for now before they consider the exploration of this idea by the commercial sector.