Rolls-Royce Receives UK Funding to Develop Nuclear Reactor for Moon Exploration

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
March 17, 2023Updated: March 17, 2023

Rolls-Royce has received UK government funding to develop a nuclear reactor for a future moon base.

Scientists and engineers at the British company are working on the Micro-Reactor programme to develop technology that will provide power needed for humans to live and work on the moon.

The UK Space Agency on Friday announced £2.9 million ($3.5 million) of new funding for the project, which will deliver an initial demonstration of a UK lunar modular nuclear reactor.

This comes after a £249,000 study funded by the agency in 2022.

Epoch Times Photo
Undated handout photo of a space colony, issued by Rolls-Royce on March 17, 2023. (Rolls-Royce via PA Media)

All space missions depend on a power source, to support systems for communications, life-support, and science experiments.

Experts suggest nuclear power could potentially dramatically increase the length of lunar missions.

Compared to other power systems, a relatively small and lightweight nuclear micro-reactor could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other environmental conditions.

Rolls-Royce plans to have a reactor ready to send to the moon by 2029.

It will work with a variety of collaborators including the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC.

The New Moon Race

The new funding comes at a time when a new space race is heating up between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.

In December, NASA completed its 26-day Artemis I mission, during which an unmanned Orion spacecraft circled the moon. It was the first significant step in NASA’s goal to send astronauts to the moon in 2025 to start establishing a more permanent human presence there.

The Artemis I
The Artemis I unmanned lunar rocket sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sept. 3, 2022. (Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images)

NASA said that the next moon mission, Artemis II, is set to take place within two years and with a crew of astronauts taking part in the expedition.

That flight, if successful, will pave the way for a planned Artemis III astronaut expedition to the lunar surface—the first ever to the moon’s south pole—later in the decade.

The programme, named for Apollo’s twin sister from Greek mythology, is aimed ultimately at establishing a sustainable lunar base as a stepping stone to future human exploration of Mars.

But NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has warned that China could claim parts of the moon as its own territory and force out U.S. astronauts.

In an interview with Politico published on Jan. 1, Nelson expressed concerns that China might try to limit access to the moon’s resource-rich areas from the United States and other nations seeking to explore the lunar surface.

The Chinese space programme has made a number of significant advancements, according to a recent Pentagon report (pdf) to Congress.

Zhao Xinguo, head of the aerospace department of the First Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, a state-owned contractor responsible for most of China’s space launches, said that China’s first manned lunar space launch vehicle, known as the Long March-5G, would fly for the first time by 2027, Chinese state media reported in November 2022.

“It is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here, this is our territory,” Nelson told Politico.


Commenting on the new UK investment in its space programme, science minister George Freeman said: “Space exploration is the ultimate laboratory for so many of the transformational technologies we need on Earth: from materials to robotics, nutrition, cleantech, and much more.

“As we prepare to see humans return to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years, we are backing exciting research like this lunar modular reactor with Rolls-Royce to pioneer new power sources for a lunar base.

“Partnerships like this, between British industry, the UK Space Agency, and government are helping to create jobs across our £16 billion space tech sector and help ensure the UK continues to be a major force in frontier science.”

Abi Clayton, director of future programmes for Rolls-Royce, said the firm is “proud to work collaboratively with the UK Space Agency and the many UK academic institutions to showcase the best of UK innovation and knowledge in space.”

She said: “This funding will bring us further down the road in making the Micro-Reactor a reality, with the technology bringing immense benefits for both space and Earth.

“The technology will deliver the capability to support commercial and defence use cases alongside providing a solution to decarbonise industry and provide clean, safe, and reliable energy.”

Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said the investment will “boost sector growth across the UK.”

He said that developing space nuclear power offers “a unique chance” to support innovative technologies and grow Britain’s nuclear, science, and space engineering skills base.

He added: “This innovative research by Rolls-Royce could lay the groundwork for powering continuous human presence on the moon, while enhancing the wider UK space sector, creating jobs, and generating further investment.”

Hannah Ng, PA Media, and Reuters contributed to this report.