back to article NASA wants nuclear reactor on the Moon by 2030

NASA has chosen the three companies it will fund to develop a nuclear fission reactor ready to test on the Moon by the end of the decade. This power plant is set to be a vital component of Artemis, the American space agency's most ambitious human spaceflight mission to date. This is a large-scale project to put the first woman …

  1. MajorDoubt

    Are you stupid????

    the moon is outside the protection of the magnetic field of earth, until we can duplicate that, we are at great risk of death being outside that protection. is everyone just plain stupid???

    1. Spherical Cow

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Shielding, Shirley?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Just send old people. They are not only expendable, they are queuing up to be expendable, demanding right-to-die laws and so on.

      1/6 gravity is a perfect match to porous bones and crap balance, and in space, no one can hear you whinge.

      1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        Will there be a Post Office for me to collect my pension?

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Are you stupid????

          Will there be a pub for me to spend it?

          1. JRS

            Space bar

            Yes, but it's rubbish. There's no atmosphere.

            1. Geoff May (no relation)

              Re: Space bar

              Would be nice and quiet, though.

            2. Snowy Silver badge

              Re: Space bar

              no goldfish either...

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        "1/6 gravity is a perfect match to porous bones"

        Unfortunately not. Those spending much time in the space station have found their bones weakened by the time they returned. It would seem that bone strength is maintained dynamically in some proportion to applied load.

        1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

          Re: Are you stupid????

          One way ticket.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Are you stupid????

            Just send female astronauts. I imagine most of them would be up for a one way ticket out of the US today.

            1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

              Re: Are you stupid????

              Better to just send 6 SC "justices".

              One of them female.

              One of them a person of colour.

    3. red19

      Re: Are you stupid????

      A magnetic field is nice, but not as essential as you'd think, we can dig in deep for meters of protection.

      Also we can do better.

      Check out some insightful discussion on the topic for making a magnetosphere for Mars click

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        The above link is to a YouTube video. It cites the following in its description:

        A discussion of artificial magnetospheres, around a planet or habitat or at a Lagrange point.

        The video notes (or at least the transcript does, I didn't actually watch video) that any infrastructure capable of forming an earthlike atmosphere on Mars in a thousand year timeframe would be more than capable of keeping up with the rate at which gas is lost from the atmosphere of Mars without a magnetosphere - by an order of magnitude or two. An interesting point. (But not vital to me right now, so I haven't checked the maths or read around it)

        1. Filippo Silver badge

          Re: Are you stupid????

          Well, it's a bit like this. Imagine you've got a swimming pool. You fill it up at the start of summer. Do you go "Oh no, it's drying out in the sun"? No. There will be a little bit of evaporation. You top it off. Compared to the amazing amount of maintenance a swimming pool requires, it doesn't even qualify as an annoyance.

          Mars' hypothetical terraformed atmosphere is the same thing. If you've managed to have it in the first place, then topping it off is not a problem at all.

        2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

          Re: Are you stupid????

          Loss of atmosphere isn't the only problem with no magnetosphere, there's also the problem of cosmic radiation and people. No magnetosphere, may as well only build enclosed, which should mean no atmosphereic worries. If you want to go outside every day, gonna need that shield.

        3. Swarthy

          Re: Are you stupid????

          Having not read the article, nor watched the video, would this be something like Venus's Induced Magnetosphere or Electric Field?

      2. Snowy Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        Mars poisonous, small and energy poor about the worse place to go unless the sun warms up a bit.

    4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your chances of death are 100% no matter where you are.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        But there's always a first time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Are you stupid????

          You never forget your first time.

    5. ridley

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Best pack some form of umbrella then.

    6. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Yup. That's exactly it. Everyone at NASA is stupid.

      Having established that, I suppose you are wondering why nobody before you ever noticed that everyone at NASA is stupid.

      The answer, obviously, is that everyone not at NASA is also stupid.

      At this point, you're probably wondering how is it possible that stuff still gets successfully sent into space on a regular basis, given that space is hard and everyone is stupid.

      I'd figure out an answer for you, but I'm also stupid, so you'll have to crack that on your own.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        It's been cracked. I read it in a book somewhere. Like Noah and his idea to build an Ark, all good ideas are inspiration from God.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Are you stupid????

        "At this point, you're probably wondering how is it possible that stuff still gets successfully sent into space on a regular basis, given that space is hard and everyone is stupid."

        Please Sir, Please Sir, Me, Me, Me! It's because everyone at NASA is fewer stupid than the rest of us!!!

    7. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Too bad it is impossible to build a base underground, or that the Moon doesn't conveniently have existing lava tubes so we don't even need to dig.

    8. Black Betty

      Re: Are you stupid????

      Low tech solution is simple. Put the habitat part of the base underground or bury it under a couple of meters of lunar soil. Then simply limit time spent on the surface.

  2. Lucy in the Sky (with Diamonds)

    Location, Location, etc...

    Perhaps, the best place for it would be on the coast of the Sea of Tranquility, on Three Mile Island.

    As an added bonus, if it melts down, we could watch the bright flashing lights from earth...

    1. Snobol4

      Re: Location, Location, etc...

      And the likelihood of that happening? Fission reactors on earth have been the cause of fewer deaths than any other form of power generation. The 3 million people a year who die from the consequences of fossil fuel power stations that don't attract media attention as there is no dramatic event? Did you know that if fossil fuel power stations were regulated to the same extent as nuclear power stations they would all be shut down overnight? The reason - the fuel they are burning contains traces of naturally occuring radioactive material and burning it chucks it up into the atmosphere. Radiation is part of life and is the reason we are alive on Earth.

      My question is - what kind of fission reactor the are planning? It would seem to be unlikely to be a PWR. Could it possibly be a molten salt type developed and proven in the 1950/60s by Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a proof of concept for a nuclear powered bomber by Alvin Weinberg and his team? Unfortunately that project was canned when in-flight refuelling and ICBMs negated the need. Very unfortunate, as if that work had continued we would have cheaper and even safer fission power stations today. Atmospheric pressure, not 150 atmospheres and a potential bomb. Also, potential to burn Thorium rather than uranium, massively more abundant.

      Don't forget all long-mission NASA spacecraft have always been nuclear powered, hence their longevity. Voyager, still flying 45 years after launch. Granted not fission powered, but non-the-less

      The earth ignores fission power (particularly the newer variants, not the 50s era uranium power PWRs) at its peril. 24/365 continuous power and no emissions, and with newer reactors almost no radioactive waste. Fusion? As everyone says, it is always 30 years in the future. Fission is real and now.

      For those interested in the history of how we got the fission reactors we have today, nuclear and space and what the future of fission COULD be the following video is a "must see". It's long, but fascinating. You should watch when you have time to devote to it

  3. Mark Exclamation

    Meanwhile, applications are open for vegetarian-only astronauts. Alternatively, applications are open for cattle, sheep, pigs, and abattoir-workers who would be interested in becoming astronauts. Problem is, there's not much grass on the moon.

    1. Spherical Cow

      When they know how to grow veg they will also know how to grow grass.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Arabidopsis thaliana

        (Just wanted to see that name again!)

        As I recall the report on the experiment, it didn't really prove that stuff could grow on moon-dust/regolith; rather, it showed that it didn't kill plants immediately. As pointed out, the plants didn't grow as well as those on terrestrial soil.

        The regolith was being used - IIRC - simply as a matrix to support the roots of the plants, much as one might grow mustard and cress seedlings on a damp flannel. Both water and nutrients were provided, but I understand that one reason they didn't grow so well was that the sharp spiky bits on the moon rock damaged the roots of the seedlings.

        I suspect that, as on Earth, if you want something to grow well, you need a nice layer of organic matter well mixed in with the structurally supporting rock matrix. So growing grass for a few years might be a good start... It doesn't look like the moon is necessarily going actively going to kill plants, but it's not going to be immediately easy. The micro-flora and fauna will probably need careful monitoring, too.

        On the other hand, it's a lot easier to deliver a tonne of compost (that needs to stay) to the surface of the moon than a tonne of astronaut (who would probably like to come home).

        1. Grunchy Silver badge

          Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

          If moon people would just start disposing of their scraps into the green bin instead of the black bin, they’ll soon find they have ample compost for all their proposed gardening !

          (They should find a less hostile environment than the moon, though. Any farmer could tell you that !)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

          astronauts come with their own compost generators.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

            Only if you can provide suitable inputs.

        3. lglethal Silver badge

          Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

          Actually for most Space based growing systems, you are unlikely to use a standard soil arrangement. Aeroponics or hydroponics are much more weight and water efficient for small scale endeavours (especially Aeroponics).

          I was involved (10 years back) in a research project that was all about designing an aeroponic system for use on the moon. That project formed the basis for another project that's actually installed at one of the Antarctic bases providing fresh crops for the inhabitants of the research base (although I cant remember if they switched to hydroponics for the Antarctic system or remained with Aeroponics).

          Being able to use Soil based methods of growing crops is something that definitely would be needed in the long term (as the number of base inhabitants grew), and it's good to know that lunar soil doesnt immediately kill Earth based plants, but there is plenty of existing solutions that can pump out a good supply of food for the astronauts whilst further research is done on growing the food in the ground...

        4. ian 22

          Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

          Soylent green! And it doesn’t need to come back to Earth.

          1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

            Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

            Or Soylent Clear (water) if you live on Arrakis.

            (I just watched the new "Dune" on a plane flight; the Fremen carrying Jamis' corpse near the end reminded me of their "recycling".)

        5. David Hicklin Bronze badge

          Re: Arabidopsis thaliana

          " you need a nice layer of organic matter well mixed in with the structurally supporting rock matrix. So growing grass for a few years might be a good start."

          I was also under the impression that most of the "soil" build-up here on earth comes from the dust particles that each raindrop forms around being left behind once the water evaporates.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Growing plants needs a supply of carbon dioxide. Whilst the astronauts' exhalations will supply this it's a closed system. Assuming 100% efficiency the total biomass, astronauts' body mass included, that can be sustained is entirely determined by the total mass of carbon dioxide and water that can be sent or found there.

    3. david 12 Silver badge

      Pity. I can just imagine sitting back, smoking some grass, and watching the earth rise....

  4. gecho

    I wonder how useful solar would be on the moon when night lasts for 2 weeks. If there is much point installing panels generating extra power for 2 weeks at a time for a small permanent outpost.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You will need a lot of heat to keep everything warm at night, nuclear gives you plenty of waste heat.

      Solar has potential to be very light when there is no wind, no goats, and 1/6 gravity.

      I have standard silicon wafers off aliexpress that make >1kW/kg on earth.

      Existing Alta Devices panels should by my estimate, be able to make >10kW/kg(earth) that you have to launch.

      Which is 65kW/kg(lunar) that you have to support. It could probably just be rolled out on the surface with no support structure.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Alta Devices state that their tech reaches 29.1% efficiency.

        By what magic do you estimate that their tech will be 10 times more efficient on the Moon ?

        1. Grunchy Silver badge

          (To go from 1 kW/kg to 10 kW/kg you need to make the solar apparatus 1/10th as thick, I reckon !)

          1. Return To Sender

            The (relative) lack of atmosphere on the moon means you get roughly 1/3 extra energy density per square metre (around 1.36 kW/sq metre vs 1kW/sq metre). Which is a handy little boost in itself.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I didn't say they would be 10x better on the moon. I said that their thin-film-on-polymer, 29% efficient material is >10x better kW/kg, than off the shelf flexible monocrystalline silicon wafers (22%) from Aliexpress which I have on my bench today. Mostly because it is thinner, and plastic is lighter.

          My actual point being: you are not going to get a 40kW nuclear power plant that weighs 5kg, or 50kg if you are buying it off Aliexpress*.

          *Nasa are not allowed to buy off Aliexpress. Strictly US suppliers like ebay or amazon for them.

          btw, Alta Devices, sadly, closed in 2019.

    2. Grunchy Silver badge

      Wind farms, I reckon?

      1. 105kayem

        They could take advantage of the Solar wind…

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Yeah, but those solar winds contain lots of "sticky" particles that will attach to the blades and decrease efficiency.

      2. Falmari Silver badge

        @Grunchy "Wind farms, I reckon?" They are able to grow Brussels sprouts in moon soil, so Wind farms are an option. ;)

    3. HenryCrun

      There were comments by NASA some years ago that there are elevated areas near the poles that receive constant sunlight. Assuming that other logistical difficulties could be overcome then that may be a solution.

    4. DevOpsTimothyC

      There are area's at the poles which get sunlight 365 days a year. Those area's also have craters where the bottom NEVER gets light so is most likely to have water.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Perhaps not quite 365 days but definitely less than 12 hours of darkness a month.

        Better yet, due to the lack of atmosphere unlike on Earth the sun delivers the same amount of power whether it is on the horizon or directly overhead, plus there are no clouds and no wind so no dust storms covering them up like on Mars.

  5. Mayday Silver badge


    I wasn't sure how they would manage this, thinking that a reactor (such as a PWR) needs water/steam, turbines, generators etc to work, and would be an effort to get to the moon, but it seems like they have a few idea on how they want to go about this.

    This is why I'm not a rocket surgeon and I'm some IT guy.

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: Reactor?

      Curiosity on Mars is nuclear-powered:

      Radioisotope thermoelectric generator

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        (from above link)


        Reactor fuel Oxide:

        (UO2), Metal (UMo, UZr), Nitride (UN), Carbide (UC), Cermet, UZrH

        Fuel form:

        Pins, Plates, Block, Spheres

        Neutron spectrum:

        Thermal, Epithermal, Fast


        Stainless Steel, Ni-Based Superalloy, Refractory Alloy

        Control materials:

        Be, BeO (Neutron Reflecting), B4C (Neutron Absorbing)


        Rods, Drums, Shutters, Sliders

        Heat transport:

        Conduction, Heat Pipe, Pumped Liquid Metal, Gas

        Reactor heat transfer fluids:

        Sodium, Potassium, NaK, Lithium, HeXe, CO2

        Shield materials:

        LiH, B4C, Tungsten, Depleted Uranium, Lead, Water, Polyethylene, Aluminum

        Power conversion:

        Thermoelectric (SiGe, PbTe/TAGS, Skutterudites, Zintl/LaTe/SKD), Stirling,

        Brayton (HeXe, CO2) , Rankine (Organic, Hg, K)

        Heat rejection:

        Direct Radiation, Heat Pipes, Two-Phase Loops, Pumped Liquid Loop

        Radiator fluids:

        Water, Ammonia, Fluorocarbons, Hydrocarbons

        Radiator materials:

        Aluminum, Polymer Composites, Titanium

      2. DevOpsTimothyC

        Re: Reactor?

        While I agree that RTG's aren't giant kettles I am wondering why that approach would make the news. IIRC RTG's don't produce much energy, we're talking at most a few hundred watts

      3. Mayday Silver badge

        Re: Reactor?

        RTGs are not reactors.

        From your link

        “ RTGs and fission reactors use very different nuclear reactions.

        Nuclear power reactors (including the miniaturized ones used in space) perform controlled nuclear fission in a chain reaction. The rate of the reaction can be controlled with neutron absorbing control rods, so power can be varied with demand or shut off (almost) entirely for maintenance. However, care is needed to avoid uncontrolled operation at dangerously high power levels, or even explosion or nuclear meltdown.

        Chain reactions do not occur in RTGs. Heat is produced through spontaneous radioactive decay at a non-adjustable and steadily decreasing rate that depends only on the amount of fuel isotope and its half-life. In an RTG, heat generation cannot be varied with demand or shut off when not needed and it is not possible to save more energy for later by reducing the power consumption.”

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    So they're looking to put fissile material on a rocket

    The discussions about that are going to be interesting, not to mention that any nuclear reactor they send up in space will have to fit inside the payload are of whatever launcher they wish to use.

    Here's to hoping that the launcher functions to perfection when the time comes.

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: So they're looking to put fissile material on a rocket

      Nuclear reactors were sent in space already

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Fit in faring

      According to the Starship user guide you can have 8m tall with 8m diameter + another 9m tall tapering to 3.6m diameter. Mass limit is at least 100,000kg. We do not have final specs on HLS Starship and that may have stretched tanks and landing engines that cut into the payload space and mass. 4x 10kW of fission power comes to a piffling 6,000kg.

      If you are only landing and not returning a Starship would not need the stretched tanks and you avoid the difficulty of unloading your nuclear reactor from inside a fairing 30m above the surface of the moon. The bad news is you then have to get about 170kW of heat out of the fairing. About 8,000kg of radiator would be sufficient but you could cut that down considerably by using the Starship as a radiator and a big fan inside the tanks to spread the heat with the ullage gas.

    3. Swarthy

      Re: So they're looking to put fissile material on a rocket

      Will they use Project Orion ships to get it there? Then there's no need for debate about the material that will stay in the rocket.

  7. Dizzy Dwarf

    Space 1999

    I've been waiting 23 years for the future to finally happen.

    1. Tom Chiverton 1

      Re: Space 1999

      Didn't end well for a few people in For All Mankind either

    2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: Space 1999

      All I hope if that we get Eagle Transporters as a spin off from this project.

    3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: Space 1999

      I hope they're more careful about storing the waste this time.

  8. Winkypop Silver badge

    Harvest Moon

    Coming soon.

    Space-Hippies chained to lunar rovers holding “No Nukes” signs….

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Harvest Moon

      If that were to occur, first order of business should be to respectfully enquire of said hippies what powerplant they've fitted to their Lunar VW vans and would they kindly show us how they work, pretty please.

      1. Winkypop Silver badge

        Re: Harvest Moon

        I hear they use Jet-ta engines…..

        I’ll get my space coat.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Harvest Moon

      How do vegan hippies feel about drinking coffee made from other people's recycled urine?

      1. NXM Silver badge

        Re: Harvest Moon

        It'll be a bit like that civet cat coffee, only a bit more pissy. Similar to Starbucks.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Harvest Moon

        > How do vegan hippies feel about drinking coffee made from other people's recycled urine?

        Hey man, we're all, like, made of stardust y'know.

        Joking aside, though many current space efforts are based in Texas, no colony on the moon will be ideal for a barbeque-loving carnivore for a while. Vegans, and ideally vegans who aren't likely to go all Rambo at each other, are a sane enough choice.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Property prices

    Is this going to affect the re-sale value of my plot of moon I bought 25 years ago?

    Time to sell up?

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Property prices

      You'll need to pay for the survey first.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Property prices

      Time to put a hotel on Moonwalk….

  10. Tessier-Ashpool

    First lesbian on the Moon

    Never mind the first woman or "person of colour". I'm looking forward to the first lesbian on our satellite. Or, preferably, two.

    1. very angry man

      Re: First lesbian on the Moon

      Video or it didn't happen!

  11. HammerOn1024

    Sixth Time Is ...

    the charm. This is the SIXTH time in my life time that NASA has done this.

    Give it a rest. Use one of the 30 designs you already have! But quit bitching, quit pissing money away and get to the moon FIRST!

    We, the tax payer, are SICK of your whining NASA! SICK OF IT!

    1. lowwall

      Re: Sixth Time Is ...

      You are aware that technology advances? NASA's last work on this began in 2006 (and concluded in 2028) and was based on a 10 kilowatt reactor.

      Presumably the knowledge generated by this technology demonstrator will inform the design of these new proposals. That's how NASA works in general. They do basic research and then farm out any required builds.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Sixth Time Is ...

        NASA's last work on this began in 2006 (and concluded in 2028)

        So, still waiting then... :-)

  12. ITS Retired

    What does the gender, or a person's skin color have to do with qualifications?

    I can see why under certain circumstances why gender might make a difference, because of physical differences, but skin color?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: What does the gender, or a person's skin color have to do with qualifications?

      It's probably a requirement to get grants these days.

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: What does the gender, or a person's skin color have to do with qualifications?

      "What does the gender, or a person's skin color have to do with qualifications?"

      A great deal, apparently, because for years they were seen as adequate grounds for disqualification from many areas of human endeavour and I'm sure they still are for many people. The mostly white, male heroes of the past weren't necessarily the best of their generation, just the best of the privileged proportion of the population who were allowed to participate. It doesn't seem unreasonable or unfair to me to attempt to redress the balance in a small way.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: What does the gender, or a person's skin color have to do with qualifications?

        To assess qualification for a job, you have to know what the job is. The job in this case is to further the mixed aims of the people who are paying for the ticket. A lot of these aims are to do with inspiring future engineers and scientists, or to promote a country on the world stage. Or to send money to contractors around the country to create jobs, whatever.

        Just to be clear: if these Artemis missions require Neil Armstrong-levels of piloting skill, something has gone very wrong.

  13. batfink


    Although I have to assume that NASA do actually know what they're doing, 40KW seems low to me. My (admittedly energy-intensive) household runs at 2-3KW, so 15-20 times my earthbound requirements?

    I suppose it will depend on how big the base is, where it is, what experiments are going to be run, what the life support/reprocessing/cracking requirements are etc etc.

    However, if it was me planning to put a reactor on the moon, I'd be saying "Fuck it, let's just send the biggest sucker we can lift".

    1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: 40KW?

      I agree. Considering what it costs to send anything, end up something with room for expansion.

  14. normal1


    Easier to moon the reactor, than put a reactor on the moon.

  15. ravenviz Silver badge

    broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts

    I hope you’ll be able to open a window after dinner!

  16. MAF

    Space 1999

    Better get working on them Eagle Transporters for when things go south...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like