Power grids on the Moon: how the lunar base will be powered

Sandia National Laboratories is developing electrical microgrids for the distribution of electricity from the nuclear mini-reactors of the lunar base to various residential and auxiliary facilities.

Sandia National Laboratories/Eric Lundin

NASA’s desire to make the presence of a man on the Moon permanent as a rehearsal for a possible crewed mission to Mars creates huge engineering problems with which the construction of the ISS cannot be compared. Not only will the lunar base be a thousand times farther from Earth than the space station, its construction will require a completely new approach to solving problems.

One of the biggest problems will be the provision of electricity to the outpost. Since the base is expected to be occupied for up to two months, it will have to work during the 14-day lunar night. This means that solar panels are unlikely to help here, so experts are developing small nuclear reactors that can be used instead of or together with solar panels.

Power grid for the lunar base

But in any case, the base will need a mini-network to transfer energy and ensure its regular and stable supply. Complicating the situation is the fact that the base will consist of two objects. One of them will be a living space, and the second will be a complex for mining and fuel processing, which will be located a few kilometers away.

The proposed microgrids, one at each facility, will be connected to each other and will be similar to those used to power the ISS. However, they will require some fundamental changes. For example, it remains to be decided whether the networks will operate on direct or alternating current, which is then converted to direct in dwellings.

Other challenges include developing systems and software to regulate electricity at the processing plant so that voltage levels remain constant even when demand changes on time scales from milliseconds to whole seasons. To do this, Sandia has developed a scalable installation and a methodology for designing electrical systems to study the energy requirements and specifications of the future lunar base.

The idea is to create a top—down design – that is, first a control system will be developed together with energy storage specifications, and then its components corresponding to these specifications. In addition, the microgrids must be redesigned to ensure stability, but still be flexible enough so that one network can be connected to another.

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