Posted: 10 July 2018, 8:30 a.m. EDT
Panelists: Moderator Lee Mason, principal technologist, Power and Energy Storage, NASA’s Glenn Research Center; Koorosh Araghi, technology manager, Advanced Fuel Cells and Electrolysis, NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Marc Gibson, technical lead for Kilopower, NASA’s Glenn Research Center; John Hamley, manager, Radioisotope Power Systems program, NASA’s Glenn Research Center; Theodore Stern, director, Integrated Products, SolAero Technologies Corp.
Tom Risen, Aerospace America staff reporter
Parts of Earth’s moon are sometimes covered in darkness for 14 days, so a July 9 panel of experts at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati discussed possible energy sources that could power spacecraft or habitats on the lunar surface.
Before beginning the “Energy Solutions for Surviving the Lunar Night” panel discussion, moderator Lee Mason, principal technologist of Power and Energy Storage at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, asked where the audience stood on the debate of whether to skip landing humans on the moon before sending humans to Mars. A majority of people in the audience who raised their hands were in favor of going to the moon before Mars.
Putting a solar power array on the surface of the moon would mean renewable energy, but challenges would include preventing the solar cells from becoming covered in dust, keeping them functioning in the electrostatic environment and having enough equipment to store energy.
Participants in the panel discussion "Energy Solutions for Surviving the Lunar Night," July 9 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.
“With 350-plus hours of lunar night, trying to store that energy for continuous use dwarfs the challenge of putting up the photovoltaic array,” said Theodore Stern, the director of Integrated Products at solar power company SolAero Technologies Corp.
Nuclear power would not rely on the sun and would even be more powerful during periods of cold darkness, said Marc Gibson, technical lead for the Kilopower project at Glenn to create a new design of nuclear reactors for space travel.
NASA for decades has flown spacecraft that generate electricity from heat emanated by pieces of plutonium-238, and the Department of Energy is producing that type of plutonium again after halting the process for decades. John Hamley, manager of the Radioisotope Power Systems program at Glenn said the production process is slow and that stockpiles are finite, but “there is sufficient fuel to take care of NASA’s needs into the 2030s.” The Curiosity rover on Mars is among the spacecraft that have been launched with Pu-238.
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