The Moon, a barren and desolate landscape, poses a unique challenge for future space exploration. With no reliable source of energy to sustain human life and technology, British aerospace company Rolls-Royce has proposed a solution: nuclear micro-reactors. The UK Space Agency (UKSA) agrees, providing £2.9m in funding for the project. The micro-reactors would provide continuous, clean energy for space missions, enabling longer durations and increased scientific value.
The project is part of Rolls-Royce’s small modular reactor (SMR) programme, which aims to build and scale the technology across the UK and beyond. The reactors would be compact, modular, and factory-built, producing energy at a fraction of the cost of traditional nuclear plants. While the technology shows promise, commercial viability is still a challenge, with rising energy and material costs.
To address these challenges, the UK government has launched a competition to boost investment in SMRs, with the potential for funding if the technology proves viable. Competitors such as Newcleo and TerraPower are vying for the funding, alongside Rolls-Royce, which is currently the UK’s frontrunner.
Despite the challenges, the UKSA sees nuclear energy as a key technology for future space exploration. The agency has made funding available for UK companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon, all of which will require a reliable power source.
Perhaps the Moon will prove to be the ideal testing ground for nuclear micro-reactors. As George Freeman, Minister of State at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, highlights: “space exploration is the ultimate laboratory for so many of the transformational technologies we need on Earth.” The collaboration between Rolls-Royce, the UKSA, and other organizations could lead to the maturation of the technology, enabling continuous, clean energy for space missions and potentially revolutionizing the energy industry on Earth.