Westinghouse, Astrobotic team up on space projects

02 June 2023

Westinghouse Electric Company and lunar landers and rovers developer Astrobotic have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore collaboration on space technology programmes for NASA and the US Department of Defense.

(Image: Westinghouse)

The collaboration will focus on the development of space nuclear technology and delivery systems. Westinghouse said the joint effort will also include strengthening the space nuclear supply chain and workforce in the Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia region.

In June 2022, NASA, in partnership with Battelle Energy Alliance, contractor for the US Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, selected Westinghouse to provide an initial design concept for a fission surface power system that could be ready to launch to the Moon by the end of the decade. The 40-kilowatt class fission power system is planned to last at least 10 years in the lunar environment.

Fission systems are relatively small, lightweight and reliable, with the potential to enable continuous power regardless of location and other natural environmental conditions. A demonstration of such systems on the Moon would pave the way for long-duration missions on the Moon and Mars.

Westinghouse is developing a scaled-down version of its 5-MWe eVinci microreactor to power spacecraft in orbit or for deployment on the surface of planetary bodies such as the Moon or Mars, providing continuous power for space research and other applications.

Westinghouse's eVinci is a transportable reactor that is fully factory built, fuelled and assembled, and capable of delivering combined heat and power. Its small size allows for standard transportation methods and rapid, on-site deployment, with superior reliability and minimal maintenance, making it particularly suitable for energy consumers in remote locations.

"The inherent simplicity of the eVinci technology supports these critical space missions by providing a reliable, resilient, low-mass power generation system that can be operated autonomously," Westinghouse said. "The technology is ideal for electricity generation for the lunar surface, satellites and electric propulsion."

Astrobotic is currently developing LunaGrid, a commercial power service designed for the poles of the Moon. LunaGrid is a power generation and distribution service that will deliver power to landers, rovers, habitats, science suites, and other lunar surface systems. The service will enable systems to survive the lunar night and operate indefinitely on the Moon starting at the lunar south pole. Astrobotic plans to begin deploying and demonstrating LunaGrid elements as early as 2026 with the goal of the first operational LunaGrid by 2028 at the lunar south pole.

"Westinghouse is excited to partner with Astrobotic on delivering the next wave of innovative nuclear technology that is vital to advancing space exploration and supporting national defence missions," said Westinghouse President for Energy Systems David Durham.

"Astrobotic and Westinghouse have deep roots in Pittsburgh, and we are excited to leverage both companies' capabilities to pioneer the future of space power technologies and services," said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News