News & Analysis

University scientists create fuel to enable living in space

15th September 2023
Kristian McCann

Bangor University scientists have developed an energy source that could allow astronauts to live on the Moon for long periods of time. The power sources, equivalent in size to poppy seeds, hold the potential to sustain lunar habitation.

The Welsh University’s Nuclear Futures Institute, working in collaboration with partners like Rolls Royce, the UK Space Agency, NASA, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is at the forefront of this mission. Their goal: to provide the Moon with a compact and dependable energy solution capable of enduring the Moon's extreme environmental conditions.

This comes amid NASA's pursuit of establishing a Moon base by 2030 through its Artemis Program, which, among other things, hopes to make the Moon a stepping stone for interplanetary exploration. Fuel is one of the main challenges of sustaining life away from earth, as on the moon, for instance, the harsh environment has temperatures plummeting to -248°. Thus, an energy source to provide things like heat, is essential. Yet, conventional fuels prove too cumbersome to take in the quantities needed for long periods of time.

Therefore, Bangor University's answer to this predicament is Trisofuel. Packing huge punch in a tiny package, the miniscule small nuclear fuel cell can power micro nuclear generators, something created by its partner Rolls Royce. Not only are the fuel cells small, but the micro generator is only the size of a small car, can be stuck on a rocket, and is engineered to withstand the rigors of space travel and still function safely when on the Moon.

Equally, the technology promises high thrust capacities to spacecrafts, potentially reducing travel time to distant planets significantly. With nuclear thermal propulsion, a current nine-month journey to Mars could be reduced to four to six months.

This development could also see more terrestrial applications, with the fuel and generator being able to be applied to provide energy in disaster-stricken scenarios, where electricity is scarce and vital power operations would otherwise be offline.

The strides in the lunar fuel technology reflect the growing global interest in establishing a lunar presence. China and the US have previously stated aims to establish Moon bases in the 2030s, with an economic impetus being the extraction of valuable resources like titanium, lithium, silicon, iron, and other minerals vital to modern technology.

The development of the fuel cells will now undergo testing and be put through forces similar to being blasted up into space in anticipation for a Moon base in 2030.

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