Nuclear Reactor Power System For Space Missions



On May 2, NASA will discuss an experiment on a new nuclear reactor power system designed for space travel at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Specifically, the agency will talk about Kilopower and how it is significant to the future of robotic and human exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and other space destinations. The concept had been the subject of experimentations from November 2017 through March at the Nevada National Security.

Also included in the discussion is the agency’s Electric Propulsion Lab, which is used to test high-power solar electric propulsion that will power NASA’s lunar outpost.


NASA announced about the project in January, explaining that Kilopower will be important for astronauts to traverse the Moon and Mars for a longer duration. Specifically, it will provide them with a space fission power system that is capable of emitting 10 kilowatts of electricity continuously for 10 years, which is enough to provide with enough electricity for two households.

Kilopower is being designed to be a reliable and efficient power system that will be of assistance to the astronauts. It will supply them with their day-to-day needs such as lighting, water, and oxygen. It will also allow the astronauts to run experiments and produce their own fuel while in space. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power establish an outpost.

Marc Gibson, the Kilopower lead engineer at the Glenn Research Center, said in January that full-power testing for the duration of 28 hours should be done by March.

With such abundant supply of Kilopower, humans or robots can effectively thrive on Mars where sun’s power is unreliable due to periodic storms that can last for months. In the case of the moon, cold lunar nights last for 14 days.

NASA’s Lunar Outpost

As part of its preparation for another mission to the Moon and a mission to Mars, NASA has been building an orbital outpost to be launched in 2020 as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Specifically, it shall be launched in 2022 already equipped with power and solar electric propulsion. Finally, in 2023, the lunar post can already host habitations, allowing astronauts to live and work in deep space for up to 30 to 60 days.

The Basics Of Nuclear Reactors

Reactors are essentially used for generating electricity. The technology is already being used in aircraft carriers, submarines, and in producing medical isotopes for imaging and cancer treatment.

The process involved heavy atoms that split upon absorption of neutrons. At this state, the material produce is placed into a large tank along with small neutron source. The neutron propels a chain reaction: atom splits, releases more neutrons, causing more atoms to split and then release more neutrons, and so on.

Energy in the form of heat is continuously produced because of this chain reaction. Particularly, the more atoms that split, the larger energy will be produced. The energy produced is the one that supplies the power needed to move an equipment or machine for whatever purpose it is designed to do.

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