The British government has commissioned Rolls-Royce to develop a nuclear reactor that could one day power a lunar base as part of a US-led mission to house humans on the moon. However, the project has so far suffered from delays and cost overruns.
Britain’s space agency announced on Friday that it has awarded Rolls-Royce £2.9 million ($3.5 million) to build a prototype reactor. The British engineering company, which is owned by German company BMW, plans to have a working reactor by 2029.
“As we prepare to see humans return to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years, we are supporting exciting research like this Lunar Modular Reactor with Rolls-Royce to launch new energy sources for a lunar base. “, Minister of State for the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman, said in a statement.
The UK has never launched a crewed spaceflight and no Briton has ever walked on the surface of the Moon. Although seven British astronauts have traveled in space, the 12 people who have set foot on the Moon were American men.
As part of its Artemis program, NASA plans to return humans to the moon in 2025, although the program is already five years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. At present, the first stage of a lunar base is planned for 2032. Britain will play a supporting role in this mission, with British companies developing communication, navigation and refueling technologies for the Artemis program .
Back on Earth, the UK’s first new nuclear reactor in 30 years was delivered to Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Station last month. Under construction since 2017, the plant cost 50% more than expected and is currently scheduled to open in 2027, two years later than planned.
All but one of Britain’s eight nuclear power stations are set to close by 2028, although Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said this week the government would classify nuclear power as “sustainable,” in a bid to circumvent the UK’s own environmental rules and build new reactors. Some of them, he said, would be “small modular reactors”, like the one Rolls-Royce is building for lunar use.
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