NASA has big plans for the Moon and the Artemis program is the next big step to occupy our natural satellite. However, the still President Donald Trump ended up encouraging the United States to go further.
Trump has just signed a directive that encourages the use of nuclear energy in space, to ensure the return of astronauts to the Moon and, later, send them to Mars.
NASA wants to produce nuclear power on the moon
The Moon seems to be again on the horizon of the conquests of the great powers. The United States wants to take man back to lunar soil and land the first woman on the natural satellite from the earth.
However, China, too, among other countries, looks more closely at this star, developing missions and technologies to explore the Moon.
Nuclear power will be central to American space exploration. This is the objective of the new Space Policy Directive 6 (SPD-6), which has just been signed by the still President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Specifically, SPD-6 sets out the strategy that NASA will follow for “the responsible and efficient use of propulsion systems and space nuclear power (SNPP)”, they state on the space agency's website.
Space propulsion and nuclear power are the technology that will fundamentally enable U.S. missions in deep space to Mars and beyond.
Said Scott Pace, deputy assistant to the president and executive secretary of the National Space Council, in a statement.
As perceptible, the strategy aims to maintain the United States as a leader among the nations that fly through space. Now, they want to reinforce that leadership by applying nuclear energy technology in a safe and sustainable way.
Moon could reload ships for space travel
The relationship between space missions and nuclear energy has been thought of for several decades. For example, the interstellar probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, as well as the New Horizons spacecraft or the Curiosity rover obtain their energy from radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which convert the heat generated by the radioactive decomposition of the plutonium-238 in electricity.
However, the idea is to extend this type of system to, for example, future colonies or nuclear space plants.
In particular, NASA and the US Department of Energy have been working on Kilopower project since 2015. They are mini fusion reactors from which they will be obtained by 10 kilowatts of electricity for ten years without interruption (although the first prototypes are being designed with less capacity to validate this technology).
These small space "nuclear power plants" will serve as a refueling post for outposts on the next manned missions to the Moon (to be developed in the 2020s) and future human expeditions to Mars (planned from 2030).
These two entities work together on a fission reactor project.
Colonization of Mars and fission energy
According to the document SPD-6, there is now a commitment to SNPP systems and specific objectives are already indicated. For example, the document states that the United States should develop, in the mid-2020s, "sufficient fuel production and processing capacity to support a variety of nuclear space systems, from RTGs to nuclear thermal and nuclear electric propulsion."
Another objective established by the SPD-6 is the demonstration of a “fission energy system on the surface of the Moon that is scalable to a power range of 40 electric kilowatts (kWe) and beyond to support a sustained lunar presence and the exploration of Mars ”in the mid and late 2020s.
That is, to develop the Kilopower project to establish a true “nuclear power plant” on the lunar surface.
Donald Trump has been quite active on space policy issues. In addition to signing this document less than a month before the end of his effective term, he resurrected the National Space Council, which has been inactive since the early 90s and promoted the Artemis program, for the return of man to the Moon.