Nasa tests nuclear power system to sustain astronauts on Mars

Nasa tests nuclear power system to sustain astronauts on Mars

A key hurdle for any lengthy human mission on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to meet the various energy needs to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space.

The team is gradually ramping up for a full-power test in mid- to late March.

"We look forward to bringing this technology to fruition to give future explorers the power they need to succeed", he said. "Mars is a very hard environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, and dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet".

Project lead Patrick McClure said the device creates new opportunities for astronauts working in extreme conditions.

When astronauts someday venture to the Moon, Mars and other destinations, one of the first and most important resources they will need is power. Solar power, for example, relies on consistent sunlight.

The idea of using nuclear reactors for space flight is nothing new.

The team at the NNSS recently began tests on the reactor core.

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NASA plans to test the radical nuclear power source on Earth later this year.

In the decades since, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on efforts to build safe, reliable reactors for space, but those projects were canceled before reaching the flight-test stage. Here's how it works: The sealed tube in the heat pipe circulates a fluid around the reactor, picking up the heat and carrying it to the Stirling engine. Nuclear energy operates regardless of the weather or time of day. But none have proved to be successful enough to seriously consider for human space missions.

"The core itself is the size of a paper towel roll".

A principal technologist, Lee Mason, at NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate stated that this technology can be a real breakthrough when it comes to providing a platform for the crew to survive as well as flourish in the surface of any planet that is even remotely sustainable.

Safety of the reactor is a priority, officials said. "On launch, if we were to have something like an explosion, the risk to the public would be very minimal". Such reactors could be used to power orbiting space stations, asteroid mining operations or the engines and scientific equipment on unmanned missions to the outer planets and beyond. Of course, no habitat can sustain life without power, and a lack of fuel sources on Mars is a big roadblock.

The testing now underway is being conducted at the National Critical Experiments Research Center, about 25 miles north of the security site's Mercury entrance gate of U.S. Highway 95.

President Donald Trump in December signed a directive meant to pave the way for a return to the moon, with an eye toward an eventual mission to Mars.

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