The companies are Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric Company; Maryland-based Lockheed Martin; and Texas-based X, a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-Energy.
The 12-month contracts are valued at $5m each and will fund the development of initial design concepts for a 40-kW class fission power system planned to last at least 10 years in the lunar environment.
Nasa said fission systems, which are relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other natural environmental conditions. A demonstration of such systems on the Moon would pave the way for long-duration missions on the Moon and Mars.
“New technology drives our exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for Nasa’s space technology mission directorate. “Developing these early designs will help us lay the groundwork for powering our long-term human presence on other worlds.”
The contracts will provide Nasa critical information from industry that can lead to a joint development of a full flight-certified fission power system. Fission surface power technologies also will help Nasa develop nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These systems could be used for deep space exploration missions.