NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated an innovative nuclear reactor system that could transform the way we explore space. The small lightweight reactor is capable of producing up 10 kilowatts of electrical power for 10 years.
“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), Jim Reuter. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.”
The results of the Kilopowere Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment was announced at a press conference at NASA’s Glenn Research Center on Wednesday. The experiment itself was conducted from November 2017 to March of this year.
Currently, a large portion of space exploration requires the use of solar panels. These panels are often fragile and require a constant source of the sun to be effective. They also require a large surface area to provide a relatively small amount of power. Unlike solar, nuclear power sources are consistent, powerful and can be designed to be near indestructible. The problem with nuclear power, up until now has always been its size. The KRUSTY project changes that.
The KRUSTY reactor is capable of producing 10 kilowatts of power which is equivalent to the consumption of several average households. Just three of four of these reactors would, as a result, offer sufficient power to establish an outpost on Mars or the Moon. Additionaly, the KRUSTY’s compact size would allow a payload that included three or four reactors to be launched aboard an established heavy-lift launch system.
According to chief reactor designer at the NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the KRUSTY design is not only small and powerful but also reliable and safe. “We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said Poston.
Although promising, the KRUSTY will remain part of the STMD’s Game Changing Development program while addition risk reduction activities are performed. If testing continues to go favourably, the program will be transferred to the Technology Demonstration Mission program by 2020. The reactor will then be integrated into an existing or new mission that will likely be uncrewed to start with.
Featured Image Credit: NASA