NASA's KRUSTY reactor could enable long-term missions to the Moon and Mars

One of the key issues that face NASA and other space exploration agencies with putting long-term missions on the Moon, Mars, and other bodies in the solar system is power. Manned missions take lots of power for science and to keep astronauts alive. NASA has shown off a new power generation device that it says will fuel these future missions.

The power device is called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology and has the snazzy acronym KRUSTY. KRUSTY is a nuclear reactor power system that is said to be safe, efficient and offer plentiful energy. The small and lightweight fission power system can generate up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power.

That is enough juice to run several average homes according to NASA. KRUSTY can generate that power for as long as ten years. Up to four of the Kilopower units would be enough to power an entire outpost says NASA. NASA's Marc Gibson says that the power system would be ideal for the Moon where solar power generation is difficult because the lunar night is the equivalent of 14 days on Earth.

Kilopower would allow NASA to explore shadowed craters on the moon and send the astronauts out for long stays on the surface. NASA's prototype KRUSTY system uses a solid, cast uranium-256 reactor core that is about the size of a roll of paper towels. Passive sodium heat pipes inside transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines.

Those Stirling engines convert the heat to electricity. The prototype system has been in testing in Nevada and scientists have proven so far that the system can create electricity with fission power. The test has also proven that the system is safe no matter what environment it operates in. The system can continue safe operation even with multiple system failures.