NASA’S COMPACT NUCLEAR REACTORS COULD POWER COLONIES ON MARS
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