As Congress prepares NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2022, it has a valuable opportunity to ensure that America remains the world’s leader in sustainable space exploration by continuing to fund the development of advanced space nuclear technology.
Less than a month after issuing a policy directive on space nuclear power, the White House released an executive order Jan. 12 seeking to promote the development of small nuclear reactors for space and defense applications.
NASA and the Department of Energy will seek proposals for industry later this year for the development of a compact nuclear power system that can support the agency’s long-term lunar and Martian exploration plans.
The argument that supporters of space nuclear power make is that the technology is essential for NASA’s long-term exploration effort. Advocates have tried to make that case for decades, but only now seem to be gaining traction.
Experimental laser weapons have been fielded for decades, but the enabling technologies and threats that make them practical in battle have matured considerably in recent years.
At this 11th hour, the United States can still close the window of nuclear vulnerability, provided it can choose the right approach and act now.
After a successful campaign of ground tests, NASA is considering performing a flight test of a small nuclear reactor, possibly on a lunar lander mission in the mid-2020s.