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NASA Tests Mini-Nuclear Reactors for Moon and Mars

NASA's portable nuclear reactor could power missions to Mars

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NASA, Microsoft
After lettuce, astronauts could grow beans in space in 2021. Pixabay

NASA has said that it successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment on Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

The Kilopower experiment was conducted at the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.

Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, NASA said in a statement.

“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.

“I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve,” Reuter said.

Representational image
Representational image. Pixabay

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power – enough to run several average households – continuously for at least 10 years.

Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

The pioneering power system is ideal for the Moon, where power generation from sunlight is difficult because lunar nights are equivalent to 14 days on Earth, said Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn.

“Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Gibson.

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“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.”

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll.

Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.

The purpose of the recent experiment in Nevada was two-fold: to demonstrate that the system can create electricity with fission power, and to show the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters, said David Poston of National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colours,” said Poston.  (IANS)

Next Story

NASA Receives Over 12K Applications By Candidates For Joining its Next Class of Artemis Generation Astronauts

The next class of Artemis Generation astronauts will help us explore more of the Moon than ever before and lead us to the Red Plane

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NASA
NASA expects to introduce the new astronaut candidates in the summer of 2021. Pixabay

NASA has received over 12,000 applications from people showing willingness to join its next class of Artemis Generation astronauts who will help the US space agency explore the Moon and Mars like never before.

The application for the newest class of astronauts opened March 2 and closed March 31, NASA said on Wednesday, adding that applications were received from every US state, the District of Columbia, and four US territories. “We’ve entered a bold new era of space exploration with the Artemis programme, and we are thrilled to see so many incredible Americans apply to join us,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

“The next class of Artemis Generation astronauts will help us explore more of the Moon than ever before and lead us to the Red Planet,” Bridenstine added. However, the process is just beginning for NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board, which will assess the applicants’ qualifications and invite the most qualified candidates to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for interviews and medical tests before making a final selection.

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NASA expects to introduce the new astronaut candidates in the summer of 2021. Once selected, the astronaut candidates will go through approximately two years of initial skills training, such as spacewalking, robotics, and spacecraft systems, as well as expeditionary behavior skills, such as leadership, followership, and teamwork.

After completing training, the new astronauts could launch on American rockets and spacecraft — developed for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — to live and work aboard the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth. There they will take part in experiments that benefit life at home and prepare NASA for the Moon and Mars.

This new class also may launch aboard NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions to the Moon. Beginning in 2024, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface and will establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028. Gaining insights from new experiences on and around the Moon will prepare NASA to send the first humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Astronaut, Space Shuttle, Discovery, Space, Universe
NASA has received over 12,000 applications from people showing willingness to join its next class of Artemis Generation astronauts who will help the US space agency explore the Moon and Mars like never before. Pixabay

The number of people who applied to be an astronaut represents the second-highest number of applications NASA has ever received, surpassed only by the record of 18,300 set by the most recent class of astronauts who graduated in January. For this round of applications, NASA increased the education requirement for applicants from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree in a science, technology, math, or engineering field.

In addition, the application period was shortened from two months to one. Since the 1960s, NASA has selected 350 people to train as astronaut candidates for its increasingly challenging missions to explore space.

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With 48 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, more will be needed to serve as crew aboard spacecraft bound for multiple destinations and propel exploration forward as part of Artemis missions and beyond. (IANS)