Problems with the lunar nuclear reactor project

Since June 2022, several teams have been developing a nuclear reactor project for the Artemis lunar program. However, the reduction of NASA’s budget poses a clear threat to it. Experts advise the agency to implement a number of measures in order for this plan to be realized.

Nuclear reactor for the Moon. Source: NASA

Nuclear reactor for the Moon

In June 2022, NASA began a project to create a nuclear reactor for a base on the Moon, which they plan to build as part of the Artemis project. To do this, they chose three teams: representatives of Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse and IX. The latter is a joint initiative of Machines and X-Energy.

Each of them was allocated USD 5 million and instructed to develop their own project of an energy installation based on nuclear fission. At the same time, they were not given particularly strict conditions. It should be a mechanism with a capacity of 40 kW, the weight of which will not exceed 6 tons. It must work for at least 10 years.

The curator of the project, in addition to NASA, is the US Department of Energy. After all three teams present their developments, specialists will choose one of them, on the basis of which they will build a working model, and test it on the Moon as part of the second stage of the project.

Problems with financing

However, over the past year, the project has had huge difficulties. First of all, they relate to the reduction of NASA funding, which was announced in July 2023. No one knows exactly when the second stage of the project was supposed to begin, but it was known that its cost was about a billion dollars.

What will happen now, even experts cannot say. There is a split in the US Congress, and almost certainly, during the next two fiscal years, the start of the second phase will not be given even if the development teams are able to present successful projects.

In addition, the nuclear reactor will compete with other developments vital for the implementation of the Artemis program. It may well happen that in the coming years, the United States will explore the moon without creating new energy sources.

What do the experts advise NASA

However, experts strongly advise NASA not to stop this project. Now nuclear power has received an impetus for development, and if this is stopped, it may be difficult to start developing again in a few years.

In particular, Vince Bilardo, an industrial consultant for Team IX, believes that if a nuclear reactor is not built, the duration of missions on the surface of the Moon will be no more than 20 days. After that, the astronauts will have to return to Earth.

Therefore, he advises NASA, even if the financing of the main project is terminated, to invest in the development of auxiliary technologies, which can then be clung to. He also proposes to combine the projects of a nuclear reactor for the Moon and a power plant for spacecraft operating on the same principle, and to consider the possibility of creating an enlarged version of the mechanism, which will have a power of 100 kW. 

According to

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time