US DOE extends cooperation with space agency

21 October 2020

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have agreed to extend their existing cooperation by a further 10 years. One area for continued cooperation is space nuclear power and propulsion.

DOE's cooperation with NASA will help achieve the aims of the Artemis programme (Image: NASA)

A Memorandum of Understanding on expanding more than 50 years of collaboration was signed yesterday by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. The new MoU supersedes one signed by the two organisations in July 1992.

Discussed during the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board meeting yesterday, the agreement supports Space Policy Directive-1 and other US national space policies. Under the directive and NASA's Artemis programme, the USA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade to prepare for the first human mission to Mars.

The MoU highlights potential areas for collaboration, including: scientific observations of the early universe from the Moon; Gateway activities; high-performance computing, modelling, and simulation; planetary defence from near-Earth objects; sensor and satellite development; space nuclear power and propulsion; space situational awareness; space weather; technology transfer; and more. Future joint activities aim to continue to advance civil space exploration, scientific discovery, and US national space policy.

"An executive committee, comprising federal employees, will be co-chaired by the NASA Deputy Administrator and the Deputy Secretary of Energy, and shall meet on a regular basis to guide implementation of this MoU and ensure that issues cutting across organisational lines in either agency are resolved expeditiously," the MoU states.

NASA and DOE have also established three working groups that focus on: lunar surface infrastructure; space nuclear power and propulsion; and science and innovation, including space safety and planetary defence. The working groups will report back to the executive committee within six weeks on: planning and designing the infrastructure needed for the Artemis lunar base on the Moon's surface; developing, testing and evaluating the Artemis lunar base power supply and grid systems; and, developing a multibillion-dollar plan to research, develop, test and evaluate nuclear propulsion systems for Mars missions transporting astronauts.

"From achieving a better understanding of the Moon, to providing the nuclear fuels to propel Voyager 1 and 2 into space, DOE and NASA have been strong collaborators in our nation's space mission for decades," said Brouillette. "This new MoU will continue our esteemed work together as this administration strives to reach the next generation of space innovations and exploration."

"Artemis depends on a coalition of partners across US government, industry and the world," added Bridenstine. "The DOE's energy, science, and technology expertise remains crucial to the success of NASA missions. Together, we will mature and ready systems for exploring more of the Moon and venturing humans farther into space, all for humanity's benefit on Earth."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News