R-R Micro-Reactor Nets £ 2.9m in Funding20th Mar 2023
The UK Space Agency announced on 16th March that it would provide new funding to Rolls-Royce for a space-borne nuclear reactor. The agency declared that it was providing £ 2.9 million in funding for the development of a demonstration micro-reactor. These funds follow on from £ 249,000 given to Rolls-Royce for a study on the practicality of developing such a reactor.
Fission micro-reactor in space
Rolls-Royce had announced in February 2023 that it had completed the initial vision for a nuclear fission reactor that would be able to power interplanetary missions sufficiently for “fast” transportation. The UK government sees nuclear power as a source that can solve fueling size issues for space missions. The February statement did not include details as to whether these missions would include humans on board or not. However, powering exploration on the surface of a body was under consideration.
The announcement from the UK Space Agency states that the micro-reactor in this case will be used by explorers on the Moon. The reactor is slated to be delivered to the Moon by 2029.
Is it safe?
“Space is hard” can be taken as a euphemism for “Space is dangerous”. Adding nuclear fission to the mix may sound as unnecessarily risky, especially when solar power and other means of providing electricity are available. However, those forms of power generation also have their own complexities such as the availability of the Sun at any given time.
UK Space Agency Director of Commercial Space Operations Matt Archer told Orbital Today in an interview shortly after Rolls-Royce made their February announcement that the UK would need to ensure safety standards as is done with Earth-based nuclear reactors. Archer also pointed to a factor that is much more complicated than with current reactors: transporting the nuclear material. “It’s important that they are treated with the appropriate safety and respect that those materials require, not least recognizing that any transition to using them in space requires transit of them from here to space,” he said.