New poppy seed-sized fuel pellets could power nuclear reactors on the moon

NASA plans to test a nuclear fuel source that scientists have created that is as small as a seed for use in upcoming lunar missions.

Small nuclear fuel cells the size of seeds have been developed by British scientists, and as early as 2030, they could be able to power flower-shaped reactors on the moon.

The small new fuel cells are around the size of poppy seeds, which are about 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) wide. They were created by researchers at Bangor University in Wales' Nuclear Futures Institute. The micro pellets are a kind of fuel known as tri-structural isotropic particle (TRISO) fuel, consisting of carbon, oxygen, and uranium encased in a tough, ceramic-like shell. The cells are ideal for space travel since they are far more robust and efficient than conventional nuclear fuels.

The Space Flower Moon Micro Reactor is a proposed car-sized fusion reactor built by Rolls-Royce, and it will be powered by the fuel cells. As part of NASA's Artemis program, which intends to create a permanent presence on the moon by 2030, funding for the reactor was obtained in early March, and the design is a strong contender to power future moon bases. One of the long-lasting pellets, according to researchers, could run a single reactor for up to 15 years.

According to the BBC, NASA has now received the fuel cells for testing, which will replicate how the nuclear pellets handle the simulated stresses of a rocket launch and determine whether they are as efficient as the researchers promise.

Because solar power is unreliable at night, when temperatures drop to below minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 129 degrees Celsius), and because heating living quarters and other infrastructure would need large quantities of energy, dependable power sources will be essential for future moon colonies.

Project researcher Simon Middleburgh, a nuclear materials specialist at Bangor University, stated in a statement, "On the moon and on planetary bodies that have day and night, we can no longer rely on the Sun for energy and therefore must design systems such as the small micro-reactor to sustain life."

According to Middleburgh, there is currently no practical way to provide a dependable power supply on such a short period other than using nuclear reactors. But he went on, "the fuel needs to be very strong, able to withstand launch forces, and then dependable for many years."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the shells of TRISO fuels are resistant to oxidation, corrosion, high temperatures, and radiation leakage—all of which may occur in space.

Apart from their resilience to withstand the lunar voyage, TRISO fuels are primarily appealing due to their little size, rendering their space launch much more economical.

The tiny reactor might offer a temporary, dependable energy supply in regions hit by natural catastrophes like earthquakes, tsunamis, and tropical storms, the researchers claimed, even if its primary purpose is space exploration.

Not just NASA is keeping a watchful eye on the moon. In an effort to gather materials for a potential lunar outpost, India's Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft touched down on the moon's south pole on August 23. Additionally, China and Russia declared their intention to build a cooperative lunar outpost in 2021; however, this project has recently encountered difficulties with the crash-landing of Russia's Luna 25 lander last month.