UK Space Agency funds Rolls-Royce nuclear Micro-Reactor for Moon base

Humans could maintain a continuous presence on the Moon with a UK Space Agency-supported nuclear Micro-Reactor being developed by scientists and engineers at Rolls-Royce.

©Rolls-Royce Ltd

The UK Space Agency has announced £2.9m of new funding for the project which will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor. This follows a £249,000 study funded by the UK Space Agency in 2022. 

In a statement, George Freeman, minister of state at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “Space exploration is the ultimate laboratory for so many of the transformational technologies we need on Earth: from materials to robotics, nutrition, cleantech and much more. 

“As we prepare to see humans return to the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years, we are backing exciting research like this lunar modular reactor with Rolls-Royce to pioneer new power sources for a lunar base.” 

Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, a nuclear micro-reactor could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other environmental conditions.

The funding allows Rolls-Royce to focus on three key features of the Micro-Reactor; namely the fuel used to generate heat, the method of heat transfer, and technology to convert that heat into electricity. Rolls-Royce said it plans to have a reactor ready to send to the Moon by 2029. 

Abi Clayton, director of Future Programmes for Rolls-Royce said: “This funding will bring us further down the road in making the Micro-Reactor a reality, with the technology bringing immense benefits for both space and Earth. The technology will deliver the capability to support commercial and defence use cases alongside providing a solution to decarbonise industry and provide clean, safe and reliable energy.”

Collaborators on Micro-Reactor project include the Universities of Oxford, Bangor, and Brighton, plus Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC.