NASA develops nuclear power system for long-duration stays on planetary surfaces


Developing a strong and reliable power source for sustaining a small and light base on the surface of a planet or a moon has been a key obstacle for establishing a long-term colony in space.

An additional challenge for establishing such a base on Mars, for example, is the planet’s difficult environment which makes it virtually impossible for power systems to function properly for a prolonged period of time.

NASA Nuclear SystemHowever, NASA and officials from the US Department of Energy have now announced that they are developing a nuclear fusion system, under NASA’s Kilopower project, that could solve this issue once and for all.

The Kilopower project is a near-term technology effort aimed at developing technologies that would make fission power a viable option for sustaining prolonged missions on a planet or a moon surface.

The project aims to provide energy for astronauts and robotic missions on the surface on Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations, with testing already underway at the energy department’s National Security Site in Nevada.

Once fully developed, this novel technology could be used to power habitats and life-support systems, allowing astronauts to recharge rovers, mine resources and power their processing equipment to transform the ice on the planet’s surface into oxygen, fuel, and water.

Moreover, the technology could also be used to generate additional energy that would be fed into a spacecraft’s propulsion systems for missions to more distant planets.

NASA’s Kilopower reactor, which uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll, features a small, compact and lightweight design that will allow a single lender to deliver several units on a planet or a moon surface to provide tens of kilowatts of power.

According to NASA, testing on the components of the system dubbed ‘KRUSTY’ has been “greatly successful”, with a full-power test to be carried out by the March, ‘a bit later than originally planned’.

NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage, Lee Mason, said the project is targeting Mars as its first destination, adding that a human mission would likely require up to 50 kilowatts of power.

With our planet starting to “heat up”, finding an alternative living ground is of the utmost importance for humanity. The reality is, if we don’t start treating Earth better, we just might need to leave it behind and settle somewhere else. That is why this research is paramount and the technology needs to be perfected and prioritized. What we called “prolonged” today, might need to become “permanent” in the future.

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