Empower astronauts on Mars surface? NASA is testing space nuclear reactor

16 November 2017, 10:53 AM
Empower astronauts on Mars? NASA is testing space nuclear reactor
Empower astronauts on Mars? NASA is testing space nuclear reactor

In a new mission,  NASA is testing a space nuclear reactor that could ’empower’ future astronauts on the surface of Mars. The pioneering Kilopower reactor represents a small and simple approach for long-duration, sun-independent electric power for space or extraterrestrial surfaces.

It is being tested by energising habitats and running on-the-spot processing equipment to transform resources on the red planet into oxygen, water and fuel.

Such technology will offer prolonged life and reliability, such technology could produce from one to 10 kilowatts of electrical power, continuously for 10 years or more.

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“The Kilopower test program will give us confidence that this technology is ready for space flight development. We’ll be checking analytical models along the way for verification of how well the hardware is working,” said Lee Mason, from Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

“A space nuclear reactor could provide a high energy density power source with the ability to operate independently of solar energy or orientation, and the ability to operate in extremely harsh environments, such as the Martian surface,” said Patrick McClure, project lead on the Kilopower work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US.

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Having a space-rated fission power unit for Mars explorers would be a game changer, Mason said. No worries about meeting power demands during the night or longer, sunlight-reducing dust storms.

“It solves those issues and provides a constant supply of power regardless of where you are located on Mars. Fission power could expand the possible landing sites on Mars to include the high northern latitudes, where ice may be present,” he said.

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Moving the power system from ground-testing into a space system is an achievable objective, said Don Palac, Kilopower project manager.Looking into the future, Mason suggested that the technology would be ideal for further lunar exploration objectives too.

First Published: Thursday, November 16, 2017 10:43 AM
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