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 and first person of color on the Moon, and establish a long-term presence on Earth's natural satellite.
NASA envisions [PDF] astronauts living in a lunar base camp, bombing around in rovers, and using it as a launchpad to explore further out into the Solar System. In order for this to happen, it'll need to figure out how to generate a decent amount of power somehow.
Enter fission surface power. A nuclear fission reactor harnesses the energy released from splitting apart atoms like uranium. Unlike solar panels, fission reactors can provide constant power and can be placed in dark cool corners of the lunar surface that receive little to no sunlight. NASA believes it will need 40 kilowatts of power for the first lunar inhabitants. Last year, the agency, with the US government's Dept of Energy, invited companies to send in proposals of how to build such a system.
"Plentiful energy will be key to future space exploration," Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said at the time. "I expect fission surface power systems to greatly benefit our plans for power architectures for the Moon and Mars and even drive innovation for uses here on Earth."