UKSA Supports Leicester – ispace Lunar Night Survival Technology Project

23rd May 2024
UKSA Supports Leicester – ispace Lunar Night Survival Technology Project

Work between University of Leicester and Tokyo-based ispace for upcoming lunar activity took a new turn on 23rd May. The two will work together on how to lunar night survivability for future ispace lunar lander and rover missions.

ENDURE-ing the lunar night

The university’s Space Nuclear Power group has been part of the European Space Agency (ESA) European Devices Using Radioisotope Energy (ENDURE) programme. This ongoing programme, which has been heavily supported by the UK Space Agency, has developed heating systems that a decade ago were built only by the Americans and Russians. The technology utilizes the heat generated from radioisotope decay to keep spacecraft at operating temperatures as well as being turned into electricity. A successful unit needs to keep the craft at operating temperature during the lunar night, when temperatures can reach minus 170C.

The University was awarded funding under Phase I and Phase II of the UK International Bilateral Fund to create mission concepts leveraging the technology on future missions. For the ispace press release, project lead Dr. Hannah Sargeant from the University of Leicester School of Physics and Astronomy and Space Park Leicester said: “The radioisotope power technology that has been developed at the University of Leicester, in conjunction with National Nuclear Laboratory, is performing extremely well in our ongoing testing campaigns. In this project, we will be working with ispace to investigate the feasibility of using radioisotope heater units to provide sufficient heat to spacecraft to endure the lunar night.

“The first phase of UKSA International Bilateral Funding was used to work with our international partners to understand their power needs and mission priorities. In Phase 2, we will be conducting both laboratory and concept studies to demonstrate the feasibility of the mission concepts. It will also provide an opportunity to highlight the technology to the civil and commercial space industry and show how it could be used to meet critical power needs for priority missions.”

Planned uses

The RHUs will be used with ispace’s Series 3 landers and rovers. Takeshi Hakamada, ispace Founder and CEO, stated:

“Our work with the University of Leicester to transport UK technologies to the Moon and test their effectiveness against the lunar night is another example of the ispace’s unique capability. This collaboration exemplifies the global nature of the cislunar economy, the importance of academic institutions contributing to the vision, and the potential for great achievements. As lunar exploration continues to gain attention, ispace, through our business entities around the world, is pleased to collaborate with global organizations to advance scientific understanding through transportation to lunar orbit and the lunar surface.”

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