The first tests on the compact nuclear power system have been successful

  • The first tests on the compact nuclear power system have been successful

The first tests on the compact nuclear power system have been successful

This pioneering space fission power system could provide up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power - enough to run two average households - continuously for at least 10 years, the United States space agency said in a statement on Friday. This system shall provide as a source of power for the future habitats to be established beyond the periphery of Earth.

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system created to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said.

Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, speaks during a panel discussion on a future mission to Mars, at the National Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018.

In 2012, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and NASA Glenn Research Center in OH demonstrated how a small fission reactor could provide electrical power, creating the basis for the $20 million Kilopower project, which launched in 2015.

The new system could potentially supply the power human crews on the Martian surface would need to energize habitats and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel, NASA said.

"Mars is a very hard environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet", NASA spokesman Steve Jurczyk said, as cited by Reuters.

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

But it may be some time before the nuclear reactor is blasted off to Mars, as Nasa is not planning to send a manned mission to the red planet until the 2030s at the earliest. "This type of power system will be especially important as we travel deeper into our solar system and eventually to the surface of other worlds".

NASA Glenn shipped the prototype power system from Cleveland to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) in late September.

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

The goal was to develop and test a prototype of a space fission power system.

The result is a fission reactor fueled by a solid block of highly enriched uranium alloy and cooled using pipes clamped to the core that transfer heat to Stirling generators to be converted to electricity.

"This system has all the right properties to make this a great reactor", Mason said.

Mason said there are a number of possible applications for the technology beyond a manned mission to Mars.

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.