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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 Failed to Trace Chandrayaan 2’s Vikram Lander on Lunar Surface

On July 22, the Rs 978-crore Chandrayaan-2 was launched into space by India's heavy lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III

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NASA, Chandrayaan 2, Vikram Lander
A NASA scientist said the spacecraft failed to trace Vikram because of two reasons -- one, Vikram is located outside the area the US agency photographed, second, because it's lying in a shadowed part of the moon. Wikimedia Commons

US Space agency NASA has once again failed to trace Chandrayaan 2’s Vikram lander on the lunar surface.

A NASA spacecraft clicked photos of the landing site of Vikram earlier this month, but couldn’t capture the lander.

A NASA scientist said the spacecraft failed to trace Vikram because of two reasons — one, Vikram is located outside the area the US agency photographed, second, because it’s lying in a shadowed part of the moon.

On July 22, the Rs 978-crore Chandrayaan-2 was launched into space by India’s heavy lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV Mk III) in a text book style.

NASA, Chandrayaan 2, Vikram Lander
A NASA spacecraft clicked photos of the landing site of Vikram earlier this month, but couldn’t capture the lander. Wikimedia Commons

The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft comprised three segments — the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), Vikram (1,471 kg, four payloads) and Pragyan (27 kg, two payloads).

After five earth-bound orbit raising activities, Chandrayaan-2 was inserted into the lunar orbit. On September 2, Vikram separated from the orbiter. It made a historic landing attempt on September 7.

According to NASA, Vikram attempted a landing on a small patch of lunar highland smooth plains between Simpelius N and Manzinus C craters.

This event was India’s first attempt at a soft landing on the moon.

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The US agency said Vikram’s targeted landing site was located about 600 kilometres (370 miles) from the south pole in a relatively ancient terrain (70.8AoS latitude, 23.5AoE longitude).

According to NASA, Vikram had a hard landing and the precise location of the spacecraft in the lunar highlands has yet to be determined. (IANS)