NASA Just Found the Key Energy Source to Power Mars Colonies

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 - 11:40AM
Technology
NASA
Mars
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Wednesday, 15 November 2017 - 11:40AM
NASA Just Found the Key Energy Source to Power Mars Colonies
Image credit: YouTube
The days of us relying on solar power and rocket fuel for colonizing Mars are numbered. NASA has found a better way. 

With plans being made to colonize Mars, NASA has decided that it's time for nuclear power to take center stage.

In a recent announcement, NASA unveiled the Kilopower project, which will potentially provide power for settlements and exploration on the surface of the Red Planet.

Kilopower is essentially a miniature nuclear reactor that produces just enough electrical power to carry out essential tasks.

Here's the official description:

Opening quote
Offering prolonged life and reliability, [Kilopower] could produce from one to 10 kilowatts of electrical power, continuously for 10 years or more, Mason points out. (The average U.S. household runs on about five kilowatts of power). The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Reactor heat is transferred via passive sodium heat pipes, with that heat then converted to electricity by high-efficiency Stirling engines. A Stirling engine uses heat to create pressure forces that move a piston, which is coupled to an alternator to produce electricity, similar in some respects to an automobile engine.
Closing quote
 
Kilopower has been given primacy by NASA partly because solar power is going to have a tough time fulfilling the needs of astronauts if the panels are situated on the Martian surface—day and night cycles, dust storms, and other factors mean that sunlight won't always be around to provide the base-level of energy needed to get things done. The Kilopower system, on the other hand, can create a steady supply of power depending on the needs of the astronauts.

Kilopower will be undergoing a series of tests in Nevada to make sure the reactors are safe and reliable, with the goal of reaching Technology Readiness Level 5. 

Here's the official video from NASA giving a preview of what the system will look like:


Despite the potential utility of Kilopower, the prospect of bringing dozens of miniature nuclear reactors to Mars is pretty concerning, even if they're only small ones.

You can assure us that nuclear fail-safe systems are pretty much foolproof all you want, but catastrophic incidents like Fukushima still occur, and we're betting that the conditions on Mars can be just as unpredictable as the coast of Japan.

The one thing we'd like to see from the upcoming tests in Nevada is how the Kilopower system handles a full-on systemic failure, along with conclusive proof that they will not attract sandworms.
Science
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NASA Just Found the Key Energy Source to Power Mars Colonies
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