NASA has announced successful tests of the Kilopower portable nuclear fission reactor – the small, transportable nuclear reactor has been designed to generate power for long-term space travel to Mars or the Moon. Kilopower uses a six-inch chunk of uranium-235 as fuel.
The device, which is still in prototype stage, will be quite important for space expeditions where astronauts won’t be able to take enough supplies on their spacecraft and must still generate power far from Earth. They will need to be able to generate their own resources.
“When we go to the moon, and eventually on to Mars, we are likely going to need large power sources and not rely on the sun,” Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for space technology, said.
Officials from NASA as well as from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, performed a series of tests on the Kilopower portable nuclear between last November and March at NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site to ensure that the technology works, reliably and safely.
Back in March, the NASA and NNSA team ran the first full-power tests. The team ran their test reactor through a 28-hour vacuum-chamber test that simulated a full power cycle, including startup, ramp-up, steady operation and shutdown. The KRUSTY power system, also known as the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology, was put through additional tests to check how it dealt with multiple failures. Now, the officials have announced that those tests went extremely well.
David Poston, the chief reactor designer at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a statement that they tested the reactor in every manner possible, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios, and it passed with flying colors.
Over the next 18 months, the Kilopower team will work to determine what is exactly required to design, build, certify and fly the nuclear reactors. They will also be conducting flight demonstrations.
If all goes as per plans, NASA could likely deliver a 1,500-kilogram (3,300-pound) demonstration reactor onto the lunar surface on a medium-size commercial lander by mid-2020.