Reuters is reporting that NASA has completed a test of their compact nuclear power system – the one they intend to use as a power source on Mars. The test marks a giant leap forward in the development of sustainable energy for a potential long-term mission to the Red Planet.
The issue, for decades, with setting up a Martian base was the need for an energy source that was both sustainable and practical for transport through space. The system known as Kilopower potentially solves both problems.
Each unit is roughly six and a half feet tall and produces ten kilowatts of power. The process is a little complicated, but what Kilopower does in essence is use a uranium core roughly the size of a cardboard tube to generate power. That power is then transferred through sodium heat pipes, and converted into electricity by Stirling engines. (The full process can be found here on NASA’s official website.)
The tests on the power system began in November, with the hope they would prove useful both in manned and unmanned missions to Mars. The results have been extremely promising, delivering effective levels of energy – each unit is powerful enough to run two average households for two full years according to NASA – as well as being small enough to remain feasible for deep space travel.
The next step now will be perfecting these models, and eventually getting them to Mars, where scientists can see how they perform in the field.