NASA Testing Kilopower Project's Nuclear Reactor Core For Future Mars, Moon Habitats

NASA Testing Kilopower Project's Nuclear Reactor Core For Future Mars, Moon Habitats

The two U.S. government bodies began trialling the reactor late past year, the website says, with harsher tests for a flight-ready power generator due to commence in spring. This system shall provide as a source of power for the future habitats to be established beyond the periphery of Earth.

"We look forward to bringing this technology to fruition to give future explorers the power they need to succeed", he said.

Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, speaks during a panel discussion on a future mission to Mars, at the National Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018.

NASA's Kilopower project aims to develop preliminary concepts and various technologies for putting affordable fission nuclear power systems on Mars.

Officials said a full-power test will be conducted near the middle or end of March, a bit later than originally planned.

"Mars is a very hard environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet", NASA spokesman Steve Jurczyk said, as cited by Reuters. To effectively run a habitat on Mars and create fuel, about 40 kW would be needed, so NASA would likely send four to five of the reactors to the planet's surface. While powering a colony is only one of the many complex technical questions that must be answered when we think about sending humans to other planets, it's a critically important one.


The US Department of Energy and NASA have teamed up to test a compact nuclear power system that may one day sustain human energy needs on Mars. "Kilopower opens up the full surface of Mars, including the northern latitudes where water may reside", stated Lee Mason, NASA's Principal Technologist for power and energy storage.

NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core described as roughly the size of a paper towel roll.

The brilliance of Kilopoweris its simplicity: With few moving parts, it uses heat-pipe technology, invented at Los Alamos way back in 1963, to power a Stirling engine.

If the rocket carrying the reactor exploded on the launch pad, McClure said, radiation levels within a kilometer of the accident would remain "far less than you would even get on a commercial flight". The system is being tested in the Nevada desert, where initial tests have proven successful.

If the technology proves safe and effective, he said, it should be ready in time to power mankind's return to the moon in the mid 2020s and a possible mission to Mars in the early 2030s. Using the two devices in tandem creates a simple, reliable electric power supply that can be adapted for space applications, including human exploration and space science missions to outer planetary bodies like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

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