Science & Technology

NASA is building a nuclear reactor to power the exploration of the Moon and Mars!

Over the next 15 years, several space agencies and their commercial partners will implement crew missions on the Moon and Mars. In addition to placing “footprints and flags” on these objects, there are plans to establish an infrastructure that enables long-term human existence. Several technologies are currently being researched and developed to meet these mission requirements and ensure the safety of astronauts.

At the core of these technologies is to be self-sufficient in terms of resources, materials and energy.To ensure that these missions have all the energy they need to operate, NASA Fission surface power A system that provides a safe, efficient, and reliable power supply (FSP). Combined with solar cells, batteries and fuel cells, this technology will enable long-term missions to the Moon and Mars in the near future.

For NASA, having a fission reactor for lunar manipulation is Artemis program, The purpose is to create a “sustainable lunar exploration” program. This means that you need the following infrastructure: Lunar gateway (The place where the spacecraft docks and replenishes) And Artemis Base Camp Operation on the surface of the water, where astronauts eat, exercise, and sleep when they are not doing EVA.

The artist’s impression of the Kilopower fission reactor on the moon. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The base requires a significant amount of power to allow astronauts to recharge the rover, conduct experiments, and use the moon’s natural resources to produce water, propellants, building materials, and oxygen gas. will do. Use of resources on the spot (ISRU). Jim Reuter is Deputy Director of NASA’s Space Technology Mission (STMD), which is funding the fission surface power generation project.

“Abundant energy will be the key to future space exploration,” he told NASA. Press release.. “The fission surface power system is expected to bring significant benefits to the planning of the Moon and Mars power architecture and even drive innovation for use on Earth.” The concept is NASA. Kilopower The project is an effort to create a small, lightweight fission system capable of continuously supplying up to 10 kilowatts (kW) of electricity for at least 10 years.

The project ended in March 2018, Kilopower Reactor with Sterling Tech (Crusty) Demonstrator. The prototype consisted of a solid cast uranium-235 core (about the same size as a paper towel roll) and a passive sodium heat pipe that efficiently transfers the heat generated by the slow fission reaction. Stirling engine, Converts heat into electricity.

Based on this success, NASA has since partnered with the United States. Ministry of Energy (DoE) – through Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Operation Batter Energy Alliance – Develop a Kilopower-inspired FSP for the Artemis program. This will culminate in a tech demonstration tentatively scheduled for the early 2030s, and you will see a prototype reactor sent to the moon to test its capabilities under lunar conditions.

The artist’s concept of a fission surface power system on Mars. Credit: NASA

NASA’s FSP Project Manager as Todd Tofil Glenn Research Center, explanation:

“NASA and DOE are working together on this important and rewarding development. Once completed, it will be an incredible step towards long-term human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Leveraging the unique capabilities of the private industry, it provides reliable, continuous power that is location-independent of the moon. ”

November 19thNS, NASA and DoE American company for design concept For a fission power generation system ready to launch within 10 years for a demonstration on the Moon.As mentioned in Solicitation documentsThe FSP must consist of a uranium fuel core, a power conversion system (PCS), a thermal management system, and a power management and distribution (PMAD) system capable of providing continuous power of 40 kilowatts or more. User interface power at the end of its life. “

Combined with traditional methods, a compact and lightweight fission reactor is considered ideal for supplying power for lunar exploration. For starters, the fission system is reliable and can operate continuously in permanently shadowed craters scattered in the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin. During the moonlit nights (which lasts 14 days on Earth), solar power is scarcely available, making nuclear reactors highly desirable.

The system envisioned by NASA will provide at least 40 kilowatts (kW) of power. This is enough to power 30 homes on the planet continuously for 10 years. Thanks to the maturity of technology, nuclear power generation systems can also be expanded to create compact and lightweight systems. This is the key to meeting NASA’s Artemis mission requirements for power systems that can operate autonomously from the lunar module or lunar rover deck.

Habitat for nuclear transport
The artist’s vision shows a transit habitat on Mars with a nuclear propulsion system. Credit: NASA

Systems like the FSB configured in this way can provide enough power to maintain the lunar base and (in the coming decades) the Martian outpost. On Mars, seasonal fluctuations cause sandstorms that are large enough to surround the entire planet and can last for months. At such times, solar energy is unreliable and wind, batteries and fuel cells can only absorb much of the slack.

Another bonus for this study is Nuclear propulsion system Power generation depends on the nuclear reactor.These include: Nuclear heat and nuclear electric propulsion (NTP / NEP) Technology. You can slightly reduce the travel time to Mars. 100 days.. Again, NASA has been researching technology for decades with very promising results (for example). NERVA reactor).

For the next 12 months, NASA and DOE will select competing US companies to develop initial designs. These announce industry solicitations for the final design and construction of next year’s flight-qualified fission power generation system. Finalists in this phase will compete the finished design in a demonstration mission to the Moon. If all goes well, ground operations on the Moon and Mars do not have to worry about the lights going out.

References: NASA

NASA is building a nuclear reactor to power the exploration of the Moon and Mars! NASA is building a nuclear reactor to power the exploration of the Moon and Mars!

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