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Study launched to look into the potential of nuclear power for space exploration

15 January 2021

Rolls-Royce has signed an innovative contract with the UK Space Agency for a study into future nuclear power options for space exploration.

Credit: Rolls-Royce

This first contract between both organisations represents an exciting opportunity to define and shape the nuclear power solutions required in space in the decades to come.

Rolls-Royce is the only company in the world with a singular focus on creating mechanical, electrical and nuclear power solutions that will be essential in tackling the challenges of the future. Space is one such challenging and growing sector in which Rolls-Royce believe power, propulsion and thermal management will play a significant role.

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.”

Rolls-Royce has a rich heritage in nuclear and is well positioned to lead this specific work package to define the future nuclear power solutions for space. 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 world-leading nuclear power capability for multiple markets and operator needs.

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.”

Innovative 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. Rolls-Royce has existing, proven capability in these fields as well as significant experience in electrification and the provision of other high-density and sustainable power solutions, which will all support the growing space sector.


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