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How Nuclear Waste Could Fuel Lunar Exploration

Because radioactive materials are used, the safety of the systems is of critical importance, Ambrossi says. The units are encased in various layers, including a platinum alloy, which trap the americium while allowing heat to escape. The next phase of the program will focus on safety testing so that the Americium units can be certified for launch. Tests include, for example, examining the behavior of components at high temperatures and in the event of impacts, such as those that can occur in an explosion on a launch pad. This is to ensure that no radioactive material is released. “The components have to be able to withstand a whole range of very extreme scenarios,” says Ambrossi.

batteries on the moon

Once the development is complete, the same basic power system can be used for all missions where solar power is not available, says Veronique Verlet-Cavrois. This is the case, for example, during the lunar nights, which last 14 Earth days, and on expeditions to the solar system beyond Jupiter. China is used to surviving a harsh moonlit night Active lunar module Chang’e-4 Plutonium heating units built in cooperation with Russia.

The first goal of the European Space Agency for the deployment of americium power sources is the Argonaut lunar module, which is scheduled for launch in the early 2030s. Landgraf says that during the Argonaut missions, long studies should be carried out on the lunar surface and support the astronauts working there. Then, in the 2040s, the European Space Agency hopes to launch a mission to the ice giants Uranus and Neptune, says Verlette Cavrois. These planets are only seen during their flybys NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft Studied in the 1980s.

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The fact that americium is so readily available, and plutonium-238 difficult to produce, makes it likely that NASA is also interested, says Marcus Landgraf. The authority is currently studying whether it will be able to produce enough RTGs for future missions. For the Artemis program, which aims for a long-term presence on the moon, “they think Americiumna is very interesting,” says Landgraf.

Richard Ambrossi explains that it took more than a decade of research to get the americium technology to the point where it could be further developed for use on actual missions. “The excitement is palpable at the moment. We have been working towards this moment for a very long time.”