A UK Roadmap for the Development of Nuclear Power in Space

David A. Homfray, Thomas Hale, Paula Mills, Frank Schoofs, Hamid Soorghali, Aleksander Tyczyński, Mike Curtis-Rouse

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

Abstract

With the cost of launch decreasing significantly over the past decade, the potential to explore and commercialise low earth orbit, cis-Lunar space and beyond is becoming ever more viable. NASA's Artemis Plan and Accords sets out a vision of Lunar exploration within the decade, as part of an international collaboration with EU, UK and other partners. Unlike the Apollo missions, this will not be to just visit but to work towards a sustainable presence on the Lunar surface. Critical to achieving this, will be a goal of developing an uninterruptable, high specific power (kW/kg), surface power supply capable of delivering 10's-100's kW to surface habitats and experiments. Due to its extremely high specific power and being unsusceptible to the challenges of solar night or position on Lunar surface, compact nuclear fission is deemed to be an ideal power source for this type of application when developed. The UK has a heritage in innovation and development of compact nuclear power technologies, and several UK organisations are working independently and as collaborations to develop a range of nuclear fuels, technologies, and products. It has potential to become one of the world leaders in the supply of nuclear technologies for space. In this paper we present the Lunar surface use case and propose a roadmap for UK industry and academia, working in partnership, to create the Lunar surface power technologies needed to support this in time for Artemis in addition to commercial Lunar ambitions. It will set out the current UK landscape including current and proposed programmes and facilities, identify gaps, and potential international collaborations on a realistic timeline.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
Volume2022-September
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes
Event73rd International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2022 - Paris, France
Duration: 18 Sept 202222 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Although the UK has not developed any physical reactor prototypes, the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and University of Leicester are developing RTGs using a novel americium-based radioisotope [33]. Initially funded by EPSRC and now as part of ESA/UKSA programme, a first working prototype was delivered to the ESA in 2012 [34]. This pioneering work helped to kick start the UK space power market by enabling clear UK government policy decisions and enabled further programmes into fuel development and system design. The impact of this programme has had several spin-offs from the use of americium, fuel fabrication, new materials, and material processing [35]. This work also enabled initial contact between the UK (through NNL), NASA and the US Department of Energy to explore areas for collaboration.

Funding Information:
NNL have been part of several space reactor concept studies. The first one was MEGAHIT (Megawatt Highly Efficient Technologies for Space Power and Propulsion Systems for Long-duration Exploration Missions), a European Commission study aimed at developing a European roadmap for MW level NEP [31]. This was followed by DEMOCRITOS (Demonstrators for Conversion, Reactor, Radiator and Thrusters for Electric Propulsion Systems), again funded by the European Commission and it investigated the activities needed to mature NEP technologies [32].

Keywords

  • Human Exploration
  • Roadmap
  • Space Nuclear
  • Supply Chain
  • Surface Power
  • United Kingdom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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