Funding for Rolls-Royce lunar reactor development

20 March 2023

British engineering group Rolls-Royce has secured additional funding of GBP2.9 million (USD3.5 million) from the UK Space Agency for a project that will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor. The company plans to have a reactor ready to send to the Moon by 2029.

How a lunar micro-reactor could appear (Image: Rolls-Royce)

In January 2021, Rolls-Royce signed an innovative contract with the UK Space Agency for a study into future nuclear power options for space exploration. The company said the contract represented "an exciting opportunity to define and shape the nuclear power solutions required in space in the decades to come".

Scientists and engineers at Rolls-Royce are now working on the Micro-Reactor programme to develop technology that will provide power needed for humans to live and work on the Moon. 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 said it 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 latest funding - which follows a GBP249,000 study funded by the UK Space Agency in 2022 - 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 new tranche of funding from the UK Space Agency means so much for the Rolls-Royce Micro-Reactor Programme," said Abi Clayton, Director of Future Programmes for Rolls-Royce. "We're proud to work collaboratively with the UK Space Agency and the many UK academic institutions to showcase the best of UK innovation and knowledge in space.

"This funding will bring us further down the road in making the Micro-Reactor a reality, with the technology bringing immense benefits for both space and Earth. The technology will deliver the capability to support commercial and defence use cases alongside providing a solution to decarbonise industry and provide clean, safe and reliable energy".

"We are backing technology and capabilities to support ambitious space exploration missions and boost sector growth across the UK," said UK Space Agency CEO Paul Bate. "Developing space nuclear power offers a unique chance to support innovative technologies and grow our nuclear, science and space engineering skills base.

"This innovative research by Rolls-Royce could lay the groundwork for powering continuous human presence on the Moon, while enhancing the wider UK space sector, creating jobs and generating further investment".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News