NASA and DOE test compact nuclear Mars power system for future missions

The US Department of Energy and NASA have teamed up to test a compact nuclear power system that may one day sustain human energy needs on Mars. The system is being tested in the Nevada desert, where initial tests have proven successful. According to US officials, a full-power test will be performed in March under the NASA Kilopower project.

NASA's Kilopower project aims to develop preliminary concepts and various technologies for putting affordable fission nuclear power systems on Mars. These systems may be used to sustain long-term human stays on Mars, and are one of many types of technologies needed to make these future missions possible.

At this point, the project and related tests aims to determine whether fission power is even a viable option for this mission; if it's not, decision makers can direct focus elsewhere. The Nevada desert tests are part of this testing process.

Whatever system is ultimately chosen for future long-term space missions must be light and compact enough to transport to Mars, but also powerful enough to meet and sustain any particular mission's energy needs. NASA has highlighted a variety of issues Mars presents, at least as far as energy needs are concerned, including low levels of sunlight, very cold temperatures at night, dust storms that could threaten power systems, and more.

According to NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Steve Jurczyk, this power system's compact size means multiple units can be sent to Mars using a single lander. The current prototype features a uranium-25 reactor core; multiple units could provide "tens of kilowatts of power," according to Jurczyk. So far, scientists have tested various components of the system and are pleased with the results.

SOURCE: Reuters