NASA said that it had contracted with three vendors to produce concept ideas for nuclear fission energy systems intended for use on the moon.

In order to receive the finance and development it needs to advance sufficiently to support our de-carbonization efforts, nuclear fission may need to go over a public perception barrier on Earth, but the relatively vacant lunar surface gets around a lot of nuclear's image problems.

Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, and IX submitted the winning proposals for this prize (a joint venture from Intuitive Machines and X-Energy). Each will earn about $5 million for their work, which is anticipated to take about 12 months, and will be done in collaboration with a few partners. These systems will just be "early concepts" for the purposes of fulfilling this specific contract.

NASA and The U.S. Department of Energy have chosen three design idea proposals to help the space agency's Artemis program of lunar exploration. The government thinks that these designs will be ready for usage on the moon by the end of the 2020s.

"Developing these early designs will help us lay the groundwork for powering our long-term human presence on other worlds," associate administrator for NASA's space technology mission directorate, Jim Reuter said in an agency press release.

The Artemis program, which aims to send people back to our largest natural satellite for ongoing science missions, may not seem like much, but if used singly or in groups to support a lunar base, it could help NASA overcome many of the difficulties of the kind of extended occupancy of the moon that it eventually plans to establish.

Conditions on the moon (and Mars, for that matter) magnify many of the difficulties we have with other power sources, like solar, here on Earth: Specifically, they must be able to function reliably independent of the availability of sunlight and in severe settings.

A 40-kilowatt class fission power plant will be tested on the moon by NASA and the DOE before the end of the decade. In order to put it into perspective, a 40-kilowatt system could deliver enough energy to run 30 homes nonstop for ten years.

The firms awarded the new contracts are required to develop 40-kilowatt systems that ought to last at least ten years in lunar conditions.

NASA adds that the work completed under this contract may be used in the future to develop propulsion systems for spacecraft that will travel great distances during deep space exploration.