UK Space Agency backs R-R nuclear power

21 March 2023

Rolls-Royce has secured funding from UK Space Agency, which is backing research by R-R into how nuclear power could be used to support a future Moon base for astronauts.

Researchers at Rolls-Royce are working on the Micro-Reactor programme to develop a technology that could provide the power needed for humans to live and work on the Moon. Nuclear power, says R-R, has the potential to dramatically increase the duration of future Lunar missions and their scientific value.   

The UK Space Agency has announced £2.9 million of new funding for the project, which will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor. This follows a £249 000 study funded by the UK Space Agency in 2022.

Rolls-Royce plans to have a reactor ready to send to the Moon by 2029. 

Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, a nuclear micro-reactor could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other environmental conditions.

Rolls-Royce will be working alongside a variety of collaborators including the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC. The funding means Rolls-Royce can further strengthen its knowledge of these complex systems, with a focus on three key features of the Micro-Reactor; the fuel used to generate heat, the method of heat transfer and technology to convert that heat into electricity.

The potential applications of Rolls-Royce Micro-Reactor technology are wide-ranging and could support commercial and defence use cases in addition to those in space. The aim is to create a world-leading power and propulsion capability for multiple markets and operator needs, alongside a clean, green and long-term power source.

The partnership with Rolls-Royce comes after the UK Space Agency recently announced £51 million of funding available for UK companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon, as part of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight programme, which aims to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the Moon, primarily for communication and navigation purposes.

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