The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has signed a contract with global major industrial technology group Rolls-Royce to study future nuclear power options for space missions. This is the first such contract awarded by the UK and is also the first ever contract between the UKSA and Rolls-Royce.
The intent is to define and configure nuclear power solutions for space exploration over the coming decades. Rolls-Royce has considerable expertise in power (including nuclear power), propulsion and thermal management technologies and regards space as a growing and challenging sector where such expertise will be invaluable.
“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,” affirmed UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway. “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.”
“Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unblock future deep-space missions and take us to Mars and beyond,” highlighted UKSA chief executive Dr Graham Turnock. “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.”
“We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space,” averred Rolls-Royce Defence UK senior VP Dave Gordan. “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.”
Nuclear power solutions developed for space would also be applicable on Earth, the company pointed out. This was because emerging nuclear technologies had “multi-domain applicability”. The result would be leading-edge nuclear power capabilities which would be able to meet the needs of many markets and operators.