Space agency NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) selected three design concept proposals for a fission surface power system design that they said could be ready to launch by the end of the decade for a demonstration on the Moon.

The technology — some might call it out of this world distributed energy — could benefit future exploration under the Artemis umbrella.

The contracts, to be awarded through the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, are each valued at around $5 million. The contracts fund the development of initial design concepts for a 40-kW-class fission power system planned to last at least 10 years in the lunar environment.

Fission systems are relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, are generally reliable and could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, 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.

Idaho National Laboratory will award 12-month contracts for preliminary designs to:

The Phase 1 awards are expected to provide NASA with critical information from industry that can lead to a joint development of a full flight-certified fission power system. Fission surface power technologies also will help NASA mature nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These systems could be used for deep space exploration missions.

NASA’s fission surface power project is managed by the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The power system development is funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Technology Demonstration Missions program, which is located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

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