- Peter Gillibrand and Rob Thomas
- BBC News
Scientists have developed an energy source that would allow astronauts to live on the moon for a long time.
The NASA-led Artemis program hopes that around 2030
Bangor University has developed nuclear fuel cells the size of poppy seeds to produce the energy needed to sustain life.
Professor Simon Middleburgh of the university said the work was challenging – “but it was interesting”.
The moon, called by some the gateway to Mars, contains many valuable resources necessary for modern technology.
It is hoped that it can be used as a springboard to reach the planets beyond.
As space technology rapidly advances, the BBC has been given exclusive access to a laboratory at Bangor University’s Institute for the Nuclear Future.
The Bangor team, which is a world leader in fuel, works with partners such as Rolls Royce, the UK Space Agency, NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US.
Professor Middleburgh, of the Institute for the Nuclear Future, said the team hoped to fully test the nuclear fuel “within the next few months”.
In some parts of the Moon, temperatures drop to the staggering lows of -414 F (-248 C) because it has no atmosphere to warm the surface.
Bangor University is a key player in developing another way of producing energy and heat to sustain life on the planet.
Researchers have just sent off a tiny nuclear fuel cell known as Trisofuel for their partners to test.
This Trisofuel cell could be used to power a micro-nuclear generator developed by Rolls Royce.
The generator is a portable device, about the size of a small car and “something you can stick on top of a rocket,” said Prof. Middleburgh.
It will now be fully tested and used with forces similar to the space blasting prepared for the lunar base in the 2030s.
He added, “You can launch them into space at full power … and they’ll still be pretty safe when they get to the moon.”
Earlier this month, India made a historic landing near the South Pole of the Moon with its robotic probe Chandrayaan-3.
One of the main goals of the mission is to hunt for water-based ice, which scientists say could help humans live on the moon in the future.
Professor Middleburgh said Bangor University’s work had put Wales on the map.
“I would say we are really pushing things [globally],” He said.
The university hopes the microgenerators could also be used here on Earth, such as in disaster areas where power has been cut.
The Bangor team is also developing a nuclear system to power the rockets, led by Dr Phylis Makurunje.
She said: “It’s very powerful – it gives a very high thrust, a very high thrust to the rocket.
“This is very important because it allows rockets to reach the most distant planets.
Dr Makurunje said the new technology could almost halve the time it takes to get to Mars.
“With a thermal nuclear engine, you’re looking at Mars in four to six months. The current duration is nine months plus,” she said.
Lunar bases in 2030
Geopolitics author and journalist Tim Marshall said the fuel breakthrough was a step in the global race to the South Pole of the Moon.
He said: “I am convinced that there will be moon bases in the 2030s. Probably Chinese, probably American-led.
“I am confident because I don’t think that the great powers can afford not to be there only if it were a huge breakthrough.
“So the Chinese are talking about 2028, laying the first brick, probably symbolically saying that they were the first. But in the early 2030s, both will have a foundation.
“Titanium, lithium, silicon, iron and many other minerals are believed to be present in all the technologies of the 21st century.
“The actual amount is unknown … but most companies are confident that it is enough to make it economically viable.”
Citing outdated space laws, he warned that things could get complicated as space becomes commercialized.
“Road traffic rules, as they are, were written in 1967 – the Space Treaty.
“It’s still a template, but it’s 50 years out of date because it didn’t know about modern technology, competition and commercial aspects, because then it was very much state-led.
“So without the updated laws agreed by the United Nations, it’s a bit of a free-for-all – and that’s a risk.”
“Because if you don’t have guidelines to operate under, then the clear competition that will happen is operating without a legal basis.”
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