The US Department of Energy has published an RFI for a lunar nuclear power plant.
The RFI specifies a “Fission Surface Power” unit “providing uninterrupted electricity output of not less than 10 kilowatts at the interface end of a 1-kilometer cable. The FSP system should provide 120 V (direct current) at the user interface of the end of a 1-kilometer cable.” Working life of ten years at full output is required, as is autonomous operations and the ability to survive “a single credible failure without reducing electric power capacity by more than 50%.” Another requirement is a modular design that can connect to others to create a larger combined power plant.
All that power needs to be packed into a “complete flight unit” weighing between 2,000kg and 3,500kg, including radiation shielding and all the bits needed to ensure it can survive launch and landing. Would-be-designers have been asked to make sure their design can work on Mars without modification, and to have their machine ready for launch no later than December 31st, 2026.
The RFI offers funds to help up to three bidders spend nine months on their designs, before construction of a prototype and ground testing.
NASA has discussed nuclear power options for more than a decade and it is not hard to see why: fuel is too heavy to schlep into space and solar power won’t be enormously useful or reliable in the planned South Pole location planned for US Moon bases. Past musings on the subject have pointed out that a nuke plant on the moon would not need cooling towers, which would mean it could end up “about the size of an office trash can.” ®