NASA Completes Their First Tests on Portable Nuclear Reactor Designed for Space Travel

Wednesday, 02 May 2018 - 6:29PM
Space
Technology
NASA
Wednesday, 02 May 2018 - 6:29PM
NASA Completes Their First Tests on Portable Nuclear Reactor Designed for Space Travel
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NASA
As NASA makes plans to send humans farther into space, either to the Moon (although plans for this are shaky) or Mars, they'll obviously need a lot of power. Specifically, power that can be generated out in space. 

NASA's big solution to this is actually fairly small: a portable nuclear fission device known as Kilopower, capable of generating nuclear power for long-term space missions. Being nuclear, it needs to be handled very carefully to make it reliable and not so extremely dangerous, and NASA has been busy running several tests on Kilopower for the past several months.

Now, the space agency and the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are declaring that these tests have been successful, with a recent demonstration of Kilopower meeting or exceeding all expectations. This concludes a series of tests which have gone on since November.

This demonstration, which NASA explained today at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, was naturally called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment. 



Once onboard a spacecraft, Kilopower would be capable of providing 10 kilowatts of electrical power for up to 10 years, and just four would be enough to power an entire outpost - according to NASA, who sadly doesn't provide more details on what their planned outpost would be like. 

For KRUSTY, a prototype Kilopower unit was run with increasing amounts of power, culminating in a 28-hour test with the small unit at full power, and it all went smoothly. Jim Reuter from NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington said the following in a NASA press release:

Opening quote
"Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration. I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve."
Closing quote


Assuming its remaining tests go well, it's tough to predict when Kilopower might be up and running on a full mission. NASA's next robotic missions to Mars, InSight and the Mars 2020 rover, will likely go with their own tried-and-tested power sources, but further missions like NASA's Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the Moon's orbit might make use of it.

And of course, once we actually return to the Moon or finally walk on Mars for the first time, we'll likely have one of these along for the trip. Whenever that happens.
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