Science

NASA Tests New Nuclear Reactor For Future Space Travelers

NASA Tests New Nuclear Reactor For Future Space Travelers

Kilopower is capable of producing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power, "enough to run several average households continuously for at least 10 years", according to NASA. According to NASA, 4 of these portable reactors are required to supply the necessities of electricity for an outpost during the future manned missions to Mars.

KRUSTY is a nuclear reactor power system that is said to be safe, efficient and offer plentiful energy. "I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve".

NASA's Marc Gibson says that the power system would be ideal for the Moon where solar power generation is hard because the lunar night is the equivalent of 14 days on Earth.

"When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that's going to require a new class of power that we've never needed before", says Gibson.

The system is powered by a uranium-235 reactor core around the size of a paper towel roll.

The objective of the recent tests, which included a 28-hour mission simulation, was to demonstrate that this setup could generate electricity via nuclear fission-the splitting of atoms to produce energy-and show that the reactor was safe and stable in different environments.

Researchers who worked on Kilopower said the reactor is "incredibly safe" to use, even in the event of a rocket explosion.




Scientists will probing to make sure the device can still generate power as efficiently in space. They put KRUSTY through its paces, culminating in a 28-hour test at full power. Part of the tests were conducted at the test site in the Nevada desert. The first heat, the second converts it into mechanical energy, and the third turns the energy of motion into electricity.

The experiment progressed in phases, increasing power to heat the core incrementally before moving on to the final phase of a simulated mission. The reactor is tested in the Research center Glenn in Cleveland.

"This", says David Poston, chief reactor designer at Los Alamos National Lab,"is the first nuclear powered operation of a new fission reactor concept in the U.S. in 40 years".

A report on Quartz.com recalls the first nuclear reactors in space, developed during the Cold War - one of which fell to earth and contaminated an area of Northern Canada, and another that released a cloud of radiation that is still floating in space.

We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colours.

NASA bosses hope nuclear reactors could enable lengthy crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. "We've done calculations to show that, under all worst-case conditions, we don't believe that there's any chance the reactor would come on accidentally, [even] during a launch accident", Poston said.

The next step will be to see how the system performs in space.


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