Rolls-Royce’s Micro-Reactor Could Make Human Exploration Beyond Earth Possible
Category Space Thursday - July 13 2023, 11:03 UTC - 7 months ago Rolls-Royce is developing a nuclear micro-reactor that could provide continuous and reliable power for human exploration beyond Earth's atmosphere, independent of location and environment which could allow for future space missions to run more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Thursday - July 13 2023, 11:03 UTC - 7 months ago
Rolls-Royce is developing a nuclear micro-reactor that could provide continuous and reliable power for human exploration beyond Earth's atmosphere, independent of location and environment which could allow for future space missions to run more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, a nuclear micro-reactor could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other environmental conditions. Rolls-Royce will be working alongside a variety of collaborators including the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC. The funding means Rolls-Royce can further strengthen its knowledge of these complex systems, with a focus on three key features of the Micro-Reactor; the fuel used to generate heat, the method of heat transfer and technology to convert that heat into electricity.
The partnership with Rolls-Royce comes after the UK Space Agency recently announced £51 million of funding available for UK companies to develop communication and navigation services for missions to the Moon, as part of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight programme, which aims to launch a constellation of satellites into orbit around the Moon. This will allow future astronauts, rovers, science experiments and other equipment to communicate, share large amounts of data including high-definition video, and navigate safely across the lunar surface.
Rolls-Royce believes their Micro-Reactor could provide continuous, stable power, regardless of location, sunlight, or other environmental factors. This could be beneficial for those engaged in human exploration beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Reliance on space bodies like the sun, for example, can be fuelling changes in our climate, making them a risky and unpredictable source of energy for space exploration. Furthermore, many current forms of power utilised in space exploration are largely solar powered with batteries, which are heavy, bulky and lose efficiency when exposed to interstellar radiation.
The nuclear micro-reactor’s relatively small and lightweight design, along with its continuous power supply and greater reliability, could enable subsequent missions to be run in a more efficient, cost effective and sustainable way without fear of lack of power or unexpected performance. Rolls-Royce’s project is focusing on the development of a safe, sustainable and reliable nuclear micro-reactor propulsion, power and thermal system that could help in terms of both efficiency and affordability.
The initial steps of the project will involve the use of simulation tools allowing Rolls-Royce to merge on board equipment components i.e. fuel cells and radiators, into a single design space. This will enable an optimised proposal for the reactor that is safe, reliable and suitable for the recent high profile space missions.
As the world looks to move beyond Earth’s atmosphere, nuclear micro-reactors could transform human space exploration into a new era with advances in exciting technologies to make space travel safer, and more feasible and efficient.