New fuel to power Rolls-Royce micro nuclear space reactor

The new fuel, Trisofuel, could be launched to the Moon for future habitats.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar south pole.
An artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar south pole.


Scientists from Bangor University in Wales have designed nuclear fuel cells as small as poppy seeds that could be used to produce energy required for future lunar habitats, a press statement reveals.

For the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972, NASA aims to send humans back to the lunar surface with its Artemis III mission in 2025 or 2026. By around 2030, the US space agency aims to establish a lunar outpost.

The new nuclear fuel cell technology, called Trisofuel, could be used to power a micro nuclear generator developed by Rolls-Royce.

Building toward a future of lunar habitation

With its Artemis program, NASA aims to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon, which would serve as an eventual stepping stone for human exploration of Mars and other parts of the Solar System.

Trisofuel was developed at the Bangor University Nuclear Futures Institute, a world leader in fuels, and works with partners such as NASA, Rolls Royce, and the UK Space Agency.

The Rolls-Royce micro nuclear generator could power a portable device roughly the size of a small car that can travel to the Moon on a spacecraft.

In an interview with the BBC, Prof. Simon Middleburgh from the university said the team hopes to fully test the nuclear fuel "over the next few months." Rolls-Royce's generator will also be put through its paces. During testing, both will be put through forces similar to being launched into space.

"You can launch them into space, with all the forces… and they'll still function quite safely when they're put onto the Moon," Prof. Middleburgh added.

The team behind the new fuel also hopes it could be used here on Earth. It could be particularly useful in disaster zones where there is no electricity.

Exploring the Moon, Mars, and beyond

A team from Bangor University is also working on a nuclear system to power rockets. Dr. Phylis Makurunje, who leads that project, told the BBC that "it is very powerful – it gives very high thrust, the push it gives to the rocket."

"This is very important because it enables rockets to reach the farthest planets," Dr. Makurunje said, adding that it could roughly halve the time it takes to reach Mars.

"With nuclear thermal propulsion – you're looking at about four to six months getting to Mars. The current duration is nine months plus," she said.

These technologies could play a major role in the human exploration of the cosmos, using lunar bases as a springboard.

On August 23, India became the first nation to successfully perform a soft landing on the lunar south pole with its Chandrayaan-3 mission.

The world's leading space powers are now racing to be the first to establish a habitat on the Moon that will draw from the vast ice-water resources that are believed to exist near the south pole.

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