INL seeks industry partners for lunar nuclear power system

27 July 2020

Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), the managing and operating contractor for the US Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, has issued a request for information (RFI) on a fission surface power (FSP) system that can be operated on the Moon.

The Moon pictured from the Apollo 10 spacecraft (Image: NASA)

Sponsored by NASA in collaboration with the Department of Energy and INL, the request for information seeks partnership on technologies and approaches to test and validate an FSP design that can be built and deployed on the Moon, and used for subsequent missions such as to Mars.

John Wagner, associate laboratory director of INL's Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate, said the laboratory has a central role in US nuclear innovation, with the anticipated demonstration of advanced reactors on the INL site.

"The prospect of deploying an advanced reactor to the lunar surface is as exciting as it is challenging, and partnering with the most forward-thinking companies in the private sector and national laboratory system will help us get there," he said.

"As space exploration operations go further and for longer periods of time, it is crucial that NASA provide energy sources that are more durable, resilient, and reliable than ever before," the RFI notes. "Small nuclear reactors can provide the power capability necessary for space exploration missions of interest to the Federal government. NASA, through the Nuclear Fission Power Project, has identified the need for a FSP system to provide reliable, durable energy for an installation on the Moon."

The RFI will inform a subsequent request for proposals (RFP) for Phase I of the project, which will culminate with a preliminary design of a FSP engineering demonstration unit (FSP-EDU). Phase II will include a final FSP design together with manufacturing, construction, and ground testing of a prototype FSP-EDU and will culminate with an additional test-qualified FSP flight system (FSP-FS) delivered to the launch site for deployment to the Moon.

"It is critical that the FSP-FS is designed so that it is extensible to operation on the Martian surface without significant redesign or modification," the RFI says. Extensibility from a lunar demonstration to a longer-duration Mars operation must be incorporated into the design of both the FSP-EDU and FSP-FS.

BEA has set a deadline of 8 September for responses to the RFI, after which INL will issue the RFP.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News