NASA’S COM­PACT NU­CLEAR RE­AC­TORS COULD POWER COLONIES ON MARS

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

If hu­mans are ever to build colonies on the

Moon or on Mars, we are go­ing to need a re­li­able way of pow­er­ing es­sen­tials such as light­ing, wa­ter and oxy­gen sup­ply – not to men­tion a means of pro­duc­ing fuel for the long schlep home.

En­ter Kilopower, NASA’s pi­o­neer­ing com­pact nu­clear fis­sion re­ac­tor cur­rently be­ing put through its paces at the space agency’s Ne­vada Na­tional Se­cu­rity Site (NNSS).

The pro­to­type power sys­tem was de­signed and de­vel­oped by NASA’s Glenn Re­search Cen­ter in col­lab­o­ra­tion with NASA’s Mar­shall Space Flight Cen­ter and the Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory.

It is hoped that the power sys­tem could pro­vide up to 10 kilo­watts of elec­tri­cal power – enough to run two av­er­age house­holds – con­tin­u­ously for at least 10 years. Just four Kilopower units would pro­vide suf­fi­cient power to es­tab­lish an out­post, the team says.

The team has cho­sen to work on fis­sion power due to the chal­leng­ing con­di­tions that must be en­dured if a space colony is to be suc­cess­fully built. On Mars, the Sun’s power varies widely through­out the sea­sons, and on the Moon, the cold lu­nar night lingers for 14 days – rul­ing out the op­tion of so­lar power.

“We want a power source that can han­dle ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments,” said Lee Ma­son, NASA’s prin­ci­pal tech­nol­o­gist for power and en­ergy stor­age. “Kilopower opens up the full sur­face of Mars, in­clud­ing the north­ern lat­i­tudes where wa­ter may re­side. On the Moon, Kilopower could be de­ployed to help search for re­sources in per­ma­nently shad­owed craters.”

Kilopower tests re­cently be­gan at the NNSS and will con­clude with a full-power test last­ing ap­prox­i­mately 28 hours towards the end of March this year.

“ON THE MOON, KILOPOWER COULD BE DE­PLOYED TO HELP SEARCH FOR RE­SOURCES”

Artist’s im­pres­sion of four Kilopower units on the sur­face of Mars

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