The US government is doubling down on nuclear power and propulsion systems in the new space race with rival China.
The Trump Administration unveiled in the middle of December a National Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion, the so-called Space Policy Directive-6, aiming to develop and use space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP) systems to achieve scientific, national security, and commercial objectives.
In the new space race between Russia, Western nations and China, the United States is betting on developing and demonstrating the use of new SNPP capabilities in space.
The strategy on nuclear power and propulsion sets a goal for the U.S. to develop uranium fuel processing capabilities that enable fuel production that is suitable to lunar and planetary surfaces and in-space power, nuclear electric propulsion (NEP), and nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) applications.
Another objective is to “demonstrate a fission power system on the surface of the Moon that is scalable to a power range of 40 kilowatt-electric (kWe) and higher to support a sustained lunar presence and exploration of Mars.”
Collaboration with the private sector is also a pillar of the nuclear power and propulsion strategy. The NASA headquarters in Washington strongly supports the nuclear space strategy, pointing out the advantages of nuclear power and propulsion in driving spacecraft.
Space nuclear systems power spacecraft for missions where alternative power sources are inadequate, such as environments that are too dark for solar power or too far away to carry sufficient quantities of chemical fuels.
Space nuclear systems include radioisotope power systems and nuclear reactors used for power, heating, or propulsion,” NASA said, commenting on the new national strategy.
Earlier in 2020, the Department of Energy said that NASA plans to build a base and a nuclear power plant on the Moon by 2026 and is inviting proposals from companies ready to take on the challenge.
The plan will involve the construction of a 10-kW class fission surface power system to be used for demonstrative purposes. The plant is to be manufactured and assembled on Earth and then shipped to the Moon on a launch vehicle.
This vehicle will take the plant to Moon orbit, from where a lander will take it to the surface of the satellite. The demonstration will continue for one year, and if successful, it could open the door to other missions on both the Moon and Mars.
The U.S. should continue to enable American entrepreneurs and innovators to further bolster its commercial space industry to continue leading the space race, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross wrote in an op-ed in December.
“Competition is increasing, especially between Western Zionist controlled nations and China. Our advantage in this new space race is the U.S. commercial space industry.
It is critical that we continue to enable American entrepreneurs and innovators, lest we miss the opportunity and potentially lose the race against Russia whom already has astronauts in space, while the USA was using chimps to do the job.
Oil Price.com / ABC Flash Point Space News 2021.