NASA Is Testing Small Nuclear Reactors To Power Mars Colonies

rgMekanic

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Researchers from NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy announced they have successfully tested a small nuclear reactor. These reactors range in power from 1 kilowatt to 10 kW. NASA states that to run a habitat on Mars and create fuel, about 40 kW would be needed.

Absolutely incredible stuff. Aside from just powering colonies on distant planets, I'm also thinking of the uses on Earth where a source of energy like this could really change lives. Think about several of these being deployed after a natural disaster!

When we imagine sending humans to live on Mars, the moon or other planetary bodies in the not-so-distant future, a primary question is: How will we power their colony? Not only will they need energy to create a habitable environment, they'll also need it to get back to Earth. For distant planetary bodies, like Mars, it's inefficient to bring fuel for the trip home; it's just too heavy. That means the astronauts need a power source to make liquid oxygen and propellant.
 

sean.b

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less terrorists and idiots on mars. having them deployed after a storm would require so much $$ in security that you might as well just import diesel for generators like we did in Iraq/Afghan.
 

Guarana [BAWLS]

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less terrorists and idiots on mars. having them deployed after a storm would require so much $$ in security that you might as well just import diesel for generators like we did in Iraq/Afghan.
well, at 10K (2-3 houses) that's not terribly efficient yet. If one of these small designs gets up to 50-100K? Then you're sitting on something that could make that happen.

Also: If it's in a seatainer, it could be dropped in place quickly by national guard type units, who could have a small relief base stationed with it.
 

bugleyman

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That's cool, but how do you get the fissionable material out of Earth's atmosphere safely?
 

xrealm20

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Same way we've done for all of the RTG reactors we've shot up there for the last 50+ years. Voyager 1 and 2 both use RTGs for power.
 

otherweeb

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lead container?

no, rocket! Levels of safety may vary, but launch success of RTG's is high and they are engineered to contain the radioactive pellets in event of failure.

These are merely heat sources connected to Stirling temperature differential mechanical engines.

That's cool, but how do you get the fissionable material out of Earth's atmosphere safely?

Does not need to be fissionable material. Use Thorium or Polonium or PU-238 instead
 

otherweeb

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What they didn't cover in the video is they need to be connected to the fuel plant (Hydrogen stripping from atmosphere?) and the Oxygen plant. You want fuel and oxygen produced BEFORE astronauts get there so do they use autonomous vehicles to assemble a base or land a gas production plant whole?
 

Bounty

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So it's an RTG with sterling engines instead of thermocouples. Why do they call this a 'reactor' ?
 

Elf_Boy

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The potential for flexible abundant power is awesome.

The potential for radiation poisoning and toxicity is awesomely scary.
 

lenardo2

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With proper shielding the chance failure to protect would be virtually nil. it is a sealed system except for the wires going out with the power... radioactive material gets "hot" makes whatever liquid they use turn to steam, the steam turns the sterling engine, then the exhaust is recycled(cooled) into liquid form..to be turned to steam again...repeat for decades of power.

also that person worried about storms on mars?

air pressure on mars is 0.6%(0.087psi) of earth's mean sea level, so a 100 mph wind on mars would have the destructive force of a light Breeze here... so we build to earth tolerances here, it would be virtually indestructible on mars.

looking at the thing they would be building, putting one 50'-100' from any structure would be pretty much "safe" for use on this planet.
 

CaptNumbNutz

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That's cool, but how do you get the fissionable material out of Earth's atmosphere safely?
Getting it out of the atmosphere isn't really the problem, it's the coming back down that is. For the most part, neither situation is much of an issue anymore.

There's 2 ways the reactors are dealt with... either the reactor is jettisoned into high orbit or left in space never to come back, or it's designed to re-enter the atmosphere.

Most of the problems came from malfunctioning satellites with reactors not hardy enough for re-entry but didn't dispose of them properly. The worst one I can think of was a Soviet Kosmos satellite that failed to reach orbit when launched in 1977. Unlike several accidents before it, this one came down over land in Canada's Northwest territory requiring a massive cleanup operation. Many brave Canadian lives were lost to pissed off radioactive bears. :p

Many times the reactor's themselves are protected enough to survive re-entry, be it intentionally or unintentionally. When Apollo 13 had to haul it's Lunar Lander with it all the way back to earth just to keep the crew alive, the lander was jettisoned and burned up over the pacific. It's RTG Nuclear Reactor is still at the bottom Tonga Trench and so far hasn't leaked since it's crash landing in 1970. That reactor was meant to stay on the moon, but was built hardy enough that it survived re-entry and a 5 mile deep ocean plunge.
 

bugleyman

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Getting it out of the atmosphere isn't really the problem, it's the coming back down that is. For the most part, neither situation is much of an issue anymore.

There's 2 ways the reactors are dealt with... either the reactor is jettisoned into high orbit or left in space never to come back, or it's designed to re-enter the atmosphere.

Most of the problems came from malfunctioning satellites with reactors not hardy enough for re-entry but didn't dispose of them properly. The worst one I can think of was a Soviet Kosmos satellite that failed to reach orbit when launched in 1977. Unlike several accidents before it, this one came down over land in Canada's Northwest territory requiring a massive cleanup operation. Many brave Canadian lives were lost to pissed off radioactive bears. :p

Many times the reactor's themselves are protected enough to survive re-entry, be it intentionally or unintentionally. When Apollo 13 had to haul it's Lunar Lander with it all the way back to earth just to keep the crew alive, the lander was jettisoned and burned up over the pacific. It's RTG Nuclear Reactor is still at the bottom Tonga Trench and so far hasn't leaked since it's crash landing in 1970. That reactor was meant to stay on the moon, but was built hardy enough that it survived re-entry and a 5 mile deep ocean plunge.

Wow, I didn't know any of that. Thank you.
 

THRESHIN

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That's cool, but how do you get the fissionable material out of Earth's atmosphere safely?

Fissionable material isn't dangerous until it gets going in a reactor. You could hold pure U-235 in your hands quite safely. Might not want to put it under your pillow, but I rest my case.
 

sfsuphysics

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Wonder if they try to use some of this heat to heat the actual habitat, if not seems like a huge waste of energy in the grand scheme of things. Considering most Mars habitat ideas involve relatively thin walls (not much insulation) and a regular little desktop space heater is 1.5kW, I'd guess you'd need a lot of these to keep said habitat warm when the outside temp can get to be cold by even Canadian standards.
 

oldmanbal

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Nuclear power is great when used responsibly but Natural disasters have taught us that there is no 100% 'safe' nuclear power. For uses like a Mars colony however, I'm sure it's not going to be on the top of your list of things that can go catastrophically wrong in space and kill you.
 

0neTwo

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fusion....one day...one day.



cJlBUVL.gif
 

ymer

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So not content with contaminating the earth, now we're going to ruin other planets.
 
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Nuclear power is great when used responsibly but Natural disasters have taught us that there is no 100% 'safe' nuclear power. For uses like a Mars colony however, I'm sure it's not going to be on the top of your list of things that can go catastrophically wrong in space and kill you.
if you dont want nuclear , there always the option of Clean Coal :D ,
 

otherweeb

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I found a Kilopower video and discovered it was totally NOT a traditional *hot* source decaying. They are using an enriched uranium source cylinder inside a beryllium reflector. It's essentially inert until they insert a boron carbide initiator. SO yes, FISSIONABLE material. Apparently enriched just enough and shaped to maintain a slow burn.



 
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