Rolls-Royce has signed a contract with the UK Space Agency for a study into future nuclear power options for space exploration.
This first contract between both organisations represents an opportunity to define and shape the nuclear power solutions required in space in the decades to come.
Rolls-Royce is focused on creating mechanical, electrical and nuclear power solutions that will play a role in tackling the challenges of the future. Space is one such challenging and growing sector in which the company believes power, propulsion and thermal management will play a significant role.
Power and thermal management alongside novel nuclear technologies, digital capabilities and engineering know-how have considerable application in space; from the manufacturing and launch of space vehicles to powering the increasing demand for on-orbit activities, in-situ resource utilisation and exploration.
Dave Gordon, UK senior vice president, Rolls-Royce Defence, said: “We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain.
“We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world and explore our universe.”
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “As we build back better from the pandemic, it is partnerships like this between business, industry and government that will help to create jobs and bring forward pioneering innovations that will advance UK spaceflight.
“Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and this innovative study with Rolls-Royce could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the universe.”
Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond.
“This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before.”
The multi-domain applicability of emerging nuclear power solutions will mean the options outlined by Rolls-Royce will also have strong commercial and defence terrestrial use-cases, creating nuclear power capability for multiple markets and operator needs.