Sunday, January 28, 2018 by David Williams
One way or another, humans are going to visit other planets. The dream, according to many scientists, is to land on the one that’s orbiting the sun right next to us: Mars. The most experienced and most knowledgeable experts in the relevant fields of study are already hard at work on turning this dream into a reality. And as part of humanity’s preparations, they’re looking to land some humans on somewhere that’s a little bit closer: the moon. Now they’ve shared some details on their progress so far.
In a recent announcement, the National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA) has revealed that it has already conducted some initial testing on a so-called compact nuclear power system, which could be used to power a long-term land-based human mission on the red planet. The space agency said that their tests were successful and that a full-power test run is scheduled to happen sometime in March.
According to a report on the space agency’s announcement from Reuters, NASA has been developing a viable nuclear fission system under its private Kilopower project for quite some time now. It is said that the agency has been conducting months-long testing at the Nevada National Security Site with the help of the U.S. Depart of Energy (DOE) and that it had “an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space” as well as on the surface of the planet Mars. They were also looking to use the technology on “the moon or other solar system destinations,” said the report.
The creation of a viable nuclear-based power source such as the one that NASA and the DOE are working on right now is of utmost importance, especially if the planned missions to Mars and beyond truly happen at some point in the not-so-distant future. This is due to the fact that any long-term occupation on any planet or moon will require the use a power source that’s able to meet the following criteria. First, it needs to be strong enough to sustain a human base for a specified period of time. Secondly, it also needs to be small and light enough to be transported easily from Earth to space.
According to Steve Jurczyk, an associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the power source they’ve created under the Kilopower project shows great promise. “Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet,” he said. “So Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to land to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power.”
Meanwhile, Dave Poston, the chief reactor designer from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has commented on the progress of the testing done by NASA and the DOE so far. He said that the components of the system, which have reportedly been named KRUSTY, has been “greatly successful.” He said that the models have “predicted very well what has happened, and operations have gone smoothly.” The current version of NASA’s prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core that’s about the size of a paper towel roll, according to a report.
The forthcoming full-power test is expected to happen a bit later than the agency originally planned, which would be near the middle or end of March. But that’s fine since any manned mission to Mars or other planets would probably many many decades away at the very least. Still, it’s best to be ready with a working power source as early as now.
Read more about innovations related to space travel at Space.news.