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NASA Selects Zeno to Lead Team to Develop Radioiso­tope Power System for Lunar Applications

Washington, D.C. – Today, NASA announced that a team led by Zeno Power, a developer of commercial radioiso­tope power systems (RPS), has been awarded a $15 million Tipping Point award to develop an americium-241 (Am-241) radioiso­tope Stirling generator (RSG) for lunar surface missions. The team for the program, called Harmonia, includes Blue Origin, Intuitive Machines Inc. (Nasdaq: LUNR, LUNRW), NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Marshall Flight Center, Sunpower Inc., and the University of Dayton Research Institute.

Operations during the two-week lunar night and in permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) are a challenge due to the extreme conditions in these envi­ron­ments. The RSG developed through this Tipping Point initiative could enable lunar assets to survive and operate during the lunar night – extending mission durations from two weeks to several years. It could also enable long-duration exploration of scien­tif­i­cally important PSRs located at the lunar south pole. Harmonia’s goal is to develop flight-ready technology for a 2027 lunar surface demonstration.

Building on decades of NASA Stirling RPS research, Zeno and Blue Origin will collaborate with NASA Glenn Research Center to scale and optimize the integration of Stirling converters into a novel RSG design. The optimized RSG will increase the system efficiency three times as compared to legacy radioiso­tope power systems – yielding state-of-the-art RSG technology for broad use by NASA and commercial space customers.

NASA’s Artemis missions are intended to usher in the next era of human space exploration, planetary science, and inter­na­tional cooperation. To operate in the harsh environment, lunar missions need a reliable long-duration energy source such as radioiso­tope energy. Harmonia could enable NASA and its partners to establish a sustainable lunar presence with robots and astronaut crews.

Project Harmonia will provide the technology to transform the Moon from a location darkened by night and shadow to one enlightened by science and exploration, ultimately for the good of the nation and humankind,” said Tyler Bernstein, CEO and Co-Founder of Zeno Power. Zeno is excited to work with these industry leaders to bring both americium-241 and Stirling conversion tech­nolo­gies to the lunar surface for the first time.”

An RPS is a compact power source that converts heat generated by the decay of radioiso­topes into a constant supply of clean energy. RPSs for space appli­ca­tions have histor­i­cally been powered by plutonium-238 from the U.S. Department of Energy, with a fuel supply chain sufficient to power NASA’s marquee missions. Using materials science and nuclear fuel manu­fac­turing innovations, Zeno’s novel design provides additional fuel options by using alternative radioiso­topes that are currently categorized as nuclear waste. Americium-241 is a long-lived isotope with favorable thermal and radiation profiles that can complement current plutonium-238 based RPSs and enable not-yet-pursued mission classes.

This project can demonstrate how broadly applicable this fuel source could be in estab­lishing a plugand-play inter­op­er­able system, whether that be for a lunar lander, exploration rover, or crewed activities,” said Zeno Vice President of Engineering Lindsey Boles. Given the predictable thermal output and long half-life of this isotope, our systems can be used sustainably on the lunar surface for decades.”

Through the Tipping Point solic­i­ta­tion, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate seeks private industry-developed space tech­nolo­gies that can foster the development of commercial space capa­bil­i­ties and benefit future NASA missions. The program furthers the tech­no­log­ical readiness of awardees to provide services for new government and commercial purposes, including Earth-bound appli­ca­tions, bringing them from the laboratory to initial demonstration.

About Zeno

Zeno Power is a leading developer of commercial radioiso­tope power systems. The company, founded in 2018, has offices in Washington, D.C., and Seattle, Wash., and recently signed a $30 million agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense to demonstrate a flight-ready radioiso­tope powered satellite by 2025.

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Kari Hulac