Rolls-Royce goes nuclear: Unveils 1st micro-reactor for space propulsion and mining
Rolls-Royce has unveiled its Novel nuclear, micro-reactor, which uses uranium as fuel and could be applied in space missions. The company claims that each uranium particle is encapsulated in multiple protective layers, acting as a containment system, allowing the micro-reactor to withstand extreme conditions. In essence, it is a factory-built nuclear power plant that offers clean and affordable energy. It is the result of Rolls-Royce’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) business.
Reports in 2021, had speculated that Rolls-Royce is working on a nuclear reactor to propel space rockets and power mining operations on other planets such as Moon and even Mars.
Now, the Rolls-Royce innovations and space website lists the micro-reactor that will aid in achieving high-mac propulsion using gas turbine and ramjet technology. It also claims that harnessing the natural decay of nuclear material inside the reactor will provide reliable power in space. Nuclear reactor decay and release heat over decades, generating power. The power can be used to power scientific and communications equipment.
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As a self-contained and power-dense solution, these micro-reactors can provide power for space exploration of a planetary surface such as mining. Rolls-Royce has signed an innovative contract with the UK Space Agency, to explore the applications of such nuclear power options.
Amanda Solloway, UK MP, (Minister for Science, Research and Innovation) said, “Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and the innovative study we are conducting with Rolls-Royce on this could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the universe.”