Space agency, NASA, is testing a nuclear reactor that could help power future human missions to the Red Planet. But what sets this system apart is its minuscule size. According to the agency, the reactor will be the size of a wastepaper basket.
The latest endeavor is called the Kilopower project, a joint venture between NASA and the Department of Energy. This compact nuclear reactor will soon be tested in the Nevada Desert. It will also be the first nuclear fission reactor to be sent into space since the SNAP 10A project in 1965.
According to NASA, the nuclear reactors will come in two models: one-kilowatt model and a 10-kilowatt model. To compare, Pat McClure, Kilopower project lead, said that regular toasters use about one kilowatt. More so, an average household used about 5 kilowatts per day.
“With this technology, I really think we are at a breaking point in terms of having a capability for allowing crews to survive and flourish on planetary surfaces,” said Lee Mason, the principal technologist for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
The nuclear reactors will be “very small” and will be adapted to space application, he added. Its uranium-235 reactor core will have the width of a paper towel roll and be about 5-6 feet tall.
The heat generated by the system will be distributed through passive sodium heat pipes, where it will be converted to electricity by Stirling engines. These engines will use the heat to apply pressure and move a piston coupled to an alternator to generate power. The reactor is called KRUSTY for short which stands for Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology. KRUSTY is said to provide 40 to 50 kilowatts of power.
Mason said that the reactor will allow future astronauts to power their gear effectively, something that our current technology can’t provide. A full-power test will be conducted near the end of March, according to NASA.
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