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NASA Tests Mini-Nuclear Reactors for Moon and Mars via Popular Mechanics

Keeping the lights on shouldn’t be a problem for interplanetary explorers thanks to Kilopower.

NASA, working with the Department of Energy (DOE), has developed a small, lightweight nuclear reactor power system that could make long-duration exploration on the moon, Mars, and even farther worlds a reality.

Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology, or KRUSTY, is a fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power for at least a decade. That’s enough to power several homes. NASA says four KRUSTY units would be enough to power an outpost on an alien world.

A KRUSTY system would be particularly useful when setting up an outpost on the moon where solar energy would have limited utility. The moon takes 28.5 Earth days to spin around its axis, meaning that a Lunar night is the equivalent of an Earth fortnight.

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The Nevada test took place in four stages. The first two were conducted sans power to make sure every part was working as expected. Then, during the third phase, the team started to ramp up the uranium core’s heat. The final phase of testing was a 28-hour full-power test to simulate a real-world mission.

Because space is unpredictable, the scientists simulated as many failures as they could think of. These included unexpected power reductions, failed engines, and failed heat pipes. KRUSTY withstood them all with flying colors.

Following the successful test, NASA and DOE researchers will now prepare for more rigorous strains on the reactor. The next step is to think of even more mission simulations and potential failures to work through. It’s a long road before Kilopower has the chance to light up the moon, but the scientists are optimistic.

Read more at NASA Tests Mini-Nuclear Reactors for Moon and Mars 

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