This image is from a video of a compressed air cylinders propelled prototype Modular Common Spacecraft Bus, tested by NASA Ames Research Center. The octagon-like common bus will be used for NASA's 2011 launched Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) orbiter
According to NASA's science mission directorate LADEE will be followed by lander missions for the International Lunar Network (ILN) and now we know that those landers could be nuclear powered
The ILN landers could form a wide area network of up to eight vehicles acting as nodes to conduct simultaneous seismological research to understand Moonquakes and the effect of meteor impacts
NASA's Glenn Research Center is interested in alternative radioisotope power sources for this lunar surface element of ILN
The space agency wants a contractor to carry out a power system analysis to arrive at a recommendation of options for the first set of ILN spacecraft.
NASA wants contractors to consider a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG)module as the power source for a spacecraft that would be launched by an Orbital Sciences' Minotaur rocket. The RTG, lunar environment study should also look for alternatives to plutonium as the isotope. The RTG could power a lunar Geophysical Instrument Package. The report is to be delivered on 19 September this year
The University Space Research Association, part of the Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR), located at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), is to work with NASA
The INL has participated in the development of both NASA's General Purpose Heat Source (GPHS) and the Multi-Mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG). The GPHS radioisotope thermoelectric generator has been used for NASA's Galileo, Ulysses, and Cassini missions. The MMRTG would use eight GPHS modules and it is being used for NASA's 2009 launched Mars Science Laboratory rover
According to NASA the CSNR will provide "unbiased and realistic" assessments of the availability of the GPHS source materials, (that's plutonium to you or me) and timelines for providing small, low power radioisotope power sources for the ILN's "first nodes"