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Space & Astronomy

Mini nuclear reactors could be used on Mars

January 19, 2018 | Comment icon 14 comments



These reactors could power a whole base. Image Credit: NASA / YouTube / Los Alamos National Lab
The Kilopower project has developed a type of miniature nuclear fission reactor for use on other worlds.
Created through a joint venture between NASA and the Department of Energy, the reactor, which will soon undergo testing in the Nevada desert, could become an integral part of future missions to Mars.

Available in either a 1KW or 10KW configuration, the reactor has the potential to power everything from astronaut living quarters to the facilities needed to turn raw resources in to usable fuel.

By comparison, the power source on the Mars Curiosity rover only generates 120 watts.

"Your toaster uses about a kilowatt," said Kilopower project lead Pat McClure. "In your average household, you use about 5 KW on average a day, at any given time."
"Realize, though, that this is a lot of energy for NASA. At NASA they're used to tens to hundreds of watts. So to have a kilowatt or 10 kilowatts is a lot of electricity."

One of the biggest concerns regarding the use of nuclear reactors in space is what happens if the launch goes wrong and the dangerous nuclear materials fall back down on to the planet.

In this case however, McClure maintains that the Kilopower reactor is nothing to worry about.

"People always think you're going to fly Chernobyl into space or something," he said. "Before you fission a reactor there are some minor amounts of radioactivity that exist in the core, because it is uranium, but its very small. If something were to happen in a launch accident, it's really not going to present a problem to the public."

"You're talking far less than a millirem for a peak dose. Most people would be in the microrem range. It's far, far less that you would receive from background radiation, or taking an airplane flight."



Source: Popular Science | Comments (14)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
And covering large areas of the surface with solar panels would be less damaging than these nuclear reactors how exactly? The NASA link in the second post I made says this: And this: So no, they can't use solar.
Comment icon #6 Posted by pallidin 5 years ago
Mini nuclear reactors, or even full scale, are the way to go with space/planetary "power plants"
Comment icon #7 Posted by keithisco 5 years ago
I cant help thinking that NASA is "missing a trick" by not utilising the strong crustal magnetic fields that exist at the surface in many places. Magnetic flux can, of† course, be used to generate electrical charge and is not dependent on seasonal or atmospheric conditions. A few micro or even nanoTesla of flux could be sufficient to†generate all their needs.†
Comment icon #8 Posted by schroedingerscat 5 years ago
Our best solar panels have efficiencies of about 15%, and since Earth has a maximum solar flux of 1,000 w/m^2 at high noon on the equinoxes at the equator, when the sun is directly overhead, it would take 1 square meter of photovoltaics to generate 150 watts.† Seven square meters might run a toaster, and remember the AVERAGE irradiance on Earth is only 660 w/m^2.† Solar irradiance values for Mars are roughly half those for Earth, meaning that 14 square meters of photovoltaics might power a toaster.† Though solar may have its uses, we need higher power density systems for manned operations on M... [More]
Comment icon #9 Posted by schroedingerscat 5 years ago
The reactor would produce electricity at a far higher power density than photovoltaics, so yes, any process requiring electrical power could be implemented.
Comment icon #10 Posted by pallidin 5 years ago
Too weak. MUCH too weak.
Comment icon #11 Posted by pallidin 5 years ago
Indeed, "energy" is extraordinary. With enough of it (and a key is "enough"), and specialized systems/raw materials to utilize it, much is possible to convert/use high energy for many products needed for survival. † †
Comment icon #12 Posted by schroedingerscat 5 years ago
What is sad, is that this is not new territory.† The USA was working on these systems over 50 years ago.† When I was a child, titles like these were available for FREE upon request from the US government, back when science was valued, and tax dollars were not wasted buying votes from special interest groups. †
Comment icon #13 Posted by Calibeliever 4 years ago
I remember the arguments against mounting plutonium on a rocket and blasting it through our atmosphere 40 years ago. It seemed overblown then and with decades of research behind us now I feel relatively safe putting these on a rocket. 40 years ago any story with the words "radioactive material" in it caused anxiety in the general population. As a kid who lived on the Pacific we regularly had nuclear drills†where we were instructed to get under our desks (as if that would have done any good). Nuclear power plants were shrouded in mystery and were the source of a lot of conspiracy theories (some... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Demonstration Proves Nuclear Fission System Can Provide Space Exploration Power †


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