The Moon is a cold, cold destination: temperatures during the 14-day lunar night can dip as low as -400° F (-240° C). Such frosty conditions take a toll on landers, rovers and other equipment, prompting a new collaboration between researchers from ispace, a lunar exploration company, and the University of Leicester, U.K., to develop a mission-saving thermal solution.

The focus is on nuclear-powered heating technology to keep robotic explorers operating during the frigid lunar night and conduct longer-duration missions. The radio-thermal generator units under development harness heat generated by radioisotope decay to keep spacecraft components, instruments and other systems at the proper temperature. The heat produced can also be converted to electricity to power key subsystems

Similar radioisotope heater units have been deployed in NASA missions. The Perseverance rover is dependent on this type of nuclear system to convert heat from the radioactive decay of plutonium-238. The new heater technology will instead rely on americium-241 as a cheaper and more sustainable option with a half-life of more than 400 years.

The advanced radio-thermal heaters are expected to accompany the Series 3 lunar lander engineered by Ispace during a launch scheduled for 2027.

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