Scientists at Bangor University have developed poppy seed-sized nuclear fuel cells that could provide a reliable and long-lasting source of power for a moon base. The development comes as NASA’s Artemis Program aims to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon by 2030.

The fuel cells are so small that they can be easily transported and assembled on the Moon.

Lunar resources, essential for modern technology and space exploration, have made the Moon an attractive target for long-term human habitation. Moon will serve as a launchpad for reaching Mars and other interplanetary missions.

Professor Simon Middleburgh, who led the research team, said that the tiny nuclear fuel cells offer a lifeline for astronauts stationed on the lunar surface. Unlike traditional energy sources, these fuel cells deliver a steady, long-lasting supply of power, vital for running life support systems, conducting scientific experiments, and even facilitating future lunar industrialisation. It ensures the sustainability of lunar operations without the need for frequent resupply missions.

Bangor University’s expertise goes hand in hand with strategic collaborations with global partners such as Rolls Royce, the UK Space Agency, NASA, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US.

Professor Middleburgh and his team plan to conduct comprehensive testing on the nuclear fuel in the coming months. This testing aims to ensure the reliability and resilience of these tiny nuclear fuel cells in the face of the Moon’s harsh environmental conditions.

One of the most formidable challenges the Moon presents is its extreme temperature fluctuations. In areas without an atmosphere, temperatures plummet to as low as -248°C, making the development of a dependable energy source all the more critical. The diminutive size and robust efficiency of these nuclear fuel cells position them as the ideal solution for surmounting such formidable challenges.

Trisofuel, a tiny nuclear fuel cell designed by the Bangor University team, can power a micronuclear generator. This portable cell, roughly the size of a small car, has been engineered for easy transport aboard a rocket.

One challenge faced by this micronuclear generator is withstanding the intense stresses of a space launch.

The university’s micro-generators, developed under the guidance of Dr Phylis Makurunje, showcase potential applications that reach far beyond the lunar landscape. These generators hold immense promise for use in disaster-stricken areas where electricity supply is disrupted.

Dr Makurunje and her team also spearhead the development of a nuclear propulsion system designed for rockets. The system delivers substantial thrust to the rocket, a capability that is vital for enabling missions to distant planets. It could also reduce travel time to Mars.

These developments follow India’s recent landing of Chandrayaan-3 near the Moon’s south pole. The primary objective of the mission is to search for water-based ice, a crucial resource that could potentially support human habitation on the Moon in the future.