NASA just tested the tiny nuclear reactor it could use for a Martian colony

  • In Science
  • 2018-01-21 01:56:04Z
  • By Digital Trends

NASA and the Department of Energy have just tested a small fission nuclear reactor named KRUSTY (Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling Technology) in the Nevada desert - a possible power source for future space exploration or even a manned mission to Mars.

Reuters reports that initial testing of the system components in a vacuum environment, part of NASA's Kilopower project, have led to plans for a full-power test in March. "The Kilopower test program will give us confidence that this technology is ready for space flight development," explained Lee Mason of NASA.

In the past, NASA has used thermoelectric generators that use heat from naturally decaying radioactive elements to power projects like the Cassini spacecraft and Curiosity rover. This recent test is different in that it uses an active fission reaction - literally "splitting atoms" - to drive pistons for a more efficient conversion.

NASA hasn't tested an active fission reactor since the '60s, according to The prototype uses a uranium-235 reactor core about the size of a paper towel roll.

The Kilopower output ranges from about 1 kilowatt (KW), about enough for a household appliance, to 10 KW. A Mars mission would require about 40 KW, so NASA would probably send four or five on such an expedition. "Kilopower's compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power," said Steve Jurczyk of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

"Mars is a very difficult 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," Jurczyk added.

The reactor could last up to ten years and provide power for life-support systems in Martian habitats, charge up rovers and other equipment, and even convert ice into usable fuel. Without having to rely on solar power, Kilopower eliminates the worry of lengthy dust storms or rationing power during nighttime hours.

"This new technology could provide kilowatts and can eventually be evolved to provide hundreds of kilowatts, or even megawatts of power," said Mason. "We call it the Kilopower project because it gives us a near-term option to provide kilowatts for missions that previously were constrained to use less. But first things first, and our test program is the way to get started."


More Related News

This Martian Crater Has a Weirdly Earth-Like Secret
This Martian Crater Has a Weirdly Earth-Like Secret

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity was exploring an uncharted Martian valley last month when it encountered a shockingly familiar sight: Streams of rocks and gravel stretched down the hillside of Perseverance Valley - a roughly 600-foot (183 meters) drop down the inner slope of a crater - in seemingly organized rows. The patterns closely resemble so-called "rock stripes" seen on certain mountains on Earth, NASA said in a statement. Perseverance Valley is thought to have been carved hundreds of thousands of years ago by a combination of water, ice and wind - already making the spot unusual by Martian standards, NASA wrote.

Finding alien life probably won't drive us into panic and chaos
Finding alien life probably won't drive us into panic and chaos

On a humid summer's day in 1996, President Bill Clinton appeared on the South Lawn of The White House and announced that NASA had discovered what looked to be fossilized bacteria on a Martian meteorite.  It was unprecedented for a President to publicly address potential evidence of alien life - and on television. But the American public didn't react to the unexpected announcement with panic, fear, or social upheaval. "You didn't see droves of people abandoning their religion, spouses, or jobs," said Michael Varnum, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, in an interview. SEE ALSO: That 'alien' bacteria on the Space Station?...

Iran hints at seaborne reactors while respecting nuclear deal
Iran hints at seaborne reactors while respecting nuclear deal
  • World
  • 2018-02-22 18:00:40Z

By Francois Murphy VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has fired a diplomatic warning shot at Washington by raising the prospect of building nuclear reactors for ships while staying within the limits set by its atomic deal with major powers, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Thursday. U.S. President Donald

NASA Wants Nuclear Engines to Fly Humans to Mars
NASA Wants Nuclear Engines to Fly Humans to Mars

Nuclear thermal propulsion, which was studied in the Cold War for space travel, could make a comeback thanks to new technologies.

NASA's $1 Billion Mobile Launcher Leans a Little
NASA's $1 Billion Mobile Launcher Leans a Little

It's unlikely the giant structure will be used for more than a single launch.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Science

Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.