There is a need for nuclear power on the Moon

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But the clock was ticking for Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft after touching down on February 22 near the Moon’s south pole.
When the Sun sets, a solar-powered lunar lander like Odysseus is starved of energy.
Temperatures during the lunar night plummet, bottoming out at around minus 280° Fahrenheit (minus 173° Celsius).
Freezing to death “We do anticipate having to deploy nuclear systems on the lunar surface,” said Jay Jenkins, program executive for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
The commercial Odysseus lander was part of CLPS.
Intuitive Machines had a $118 million contract with NASA to deliver science and tech demo payloads to the lunar surface.
“This confirms that Odie has permanently faded after cementing its legacy into history as the first commercial lunar lander to land on the Moon,” Intuitive Machines posted on X.
The first human landing on the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program, Artemis III, will spend up to six days on the lunar surface.

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NASA commemorated the first American-made lunar landing in February, marking over 50 years since the US’s last landing on the moon. This accomplishment paves the way for the eventual return of US astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade. But, after landing on February 22 close to the Moon’s south pole, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft was running out of time.

Two weeks pass between each day and night on the moon. A lunar lander powered by solar energy, such as Odysseus, runs out of fuel when the Sun sets. During the lunar night, temperatures drastically drop, reaching a low of about minus 280°F (minus 173°C).

These extremely low temperatures have the potential to destroy sensitive spacecraft hardware in two weeks, even in cases where the lander manages to restart its power generation at lunar sunrise. Heat and electricity are necessary for nighttime survival, and NASA officials claim that one of the most alluring answers to this issue is nuclear power.

dying from freezing.

Program executive Jay Jenkins of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program stated, “We do anticipate having to deploy nuclear systems on the lunar surface.”.

It’s not at all unrealistic to think that we’ll be able to finish this in five years or less. During a meeting held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this month, Jenkins stated, “We are beginning to purchase payloads that are intended for investigations that go beyond one lunar day.”.

A component of CLPS was the commercial Odysseus lander. NASA awarded $118 million to Intuitive Machines so that the company could send science and technology demonstration payloads to the moon.

As anticipated, when ground teams verified that the lander failed to survive the night, Intuitive Machines announced the end of the Odysseus mission last month. Engineers tried listening for a signal from the spacecraft, dubbed Odie, in case it woke up, but they received none.

Intuitive Machines wrote on X, “This suggests that Odie has irreversibly faded after solidifying its reputation as the first private lunar lander to set foot on the Moon.”.

“You usually don’t come back to life because of the extreme temperatures through the lunar night,” Intuitive Machines Chief Operating Officer Peter McGrath stated prior to the launch of Odysseus last month. “We’ve been investigating ways to keep landers alive because the batteries run out, the circuit boards in the computers and avionics boxes break, and even though power may be obtained from solar arrays, you really have nothing that works. “.

Following its arrival on the Moon in August of last year, India’s Chandrayaan 3 lander was likewise unable to survive past its first lunar day. Nonetheless, there are some exclusions. Despite Japanese engineers’ expectations that it would perish from the cold on its first lunar night, Japan’s SLIM lander landed on the Moon in January and is still alive. According to Japan’s space agency, while the “majority of functions” on SLIM have survived thus far, some temperature sensors and unused battery cells are beginning to malfunction.

The constraints that accompanied Odysseus will also apply to the initial phase of America’s return to the Moon, which will comprise larger human-rated landers after robotic commercial missions. The upcoming fleet of commercial landers, all under contract with NASA, is intended to operate for a single lunar day when they descend to the Moon. Up to six days will pass before Artemis III, the first human landing on the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program, leaves Earth. The astronauts are not going to spend the night.

Establishing a long-term, stable presence on the lunar surface is NASA’s long-term objective. A Moon base cannot survive on mission lifetimes of one or two weeks.

Jenkins stated, “At the moment, all of the CLPS deliveries essentially land at lunar morning and they end at lunar evening.”. “That is extremely constrictive, particularly for studies that we would like to conduct over an extended period of time—months or years—to track geophysical characteristics or other aspects of the Moon. ****.

Additionally, NASA wishes to explore craters at the Moon’s south pole that are permanently shadowed. These craters’ bottoms haven’t seen light in billions of years, and observations made from orbit imply that water ice may be present in these chilly traps—a useful resource for upcoming lunar explorers.

According to Jenkins, “so survive-the-night capability, or STN, is very highly desirable.”.

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