Planning to travel to Mars ??? Well, NASA has got is all covered. They are working hard to supply power to the surface of the Red planet for various necessities like fuel production, planetary exploration and habitat.
NASA’s recent studies suggest using fission power for human exploration in Mars. For the past five decades, Pu-238 Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTG) has been used as a constant source of power. Though RTG’s will be used, there is a need for a larger power source which will be compensated by using small nuclear fission reactors.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, in collaboration with NASA Research Center and other national labs are progressively designing to create a small source of fission power under the project name KILOPOWER, using reactors to generate power. These reactors are designed based on basic physics to reduce the reactor controls required to work the plant and introduce stringent safety features to guard against any launch accident or running transients.
The practicality of the design was proposed in 2012 and this concept received the R&D award in 2013. Since then researchers and designers on board this project have been focused on removing the necessary challenges and are working towards a live demonstration at the Nevada National Security Site near Las Vegas which is due to start in September and end in January 2018. This project is believed to cost around $15 million.
These reactors work by splitting the Uranium present inside to generate heat, which will later be converted to electricity. The test reactors are 6.5 feet tall designed to generate 1 Kilowatt of power.
It is believed that approximately 40 Kilowatt of power is needed for the human expedition to Mars which will be used for the production of fuel, air and water. NASA plans on sending four or five small fission reactors each having the capacity to generate 10 Kilowatts of energy. Initially, a few Kilowatt of power will be used to generate oxygen and the necessary propellants to transport astronauts and people in and out of the orbit. After which the power will be used to run the Martian Habitat.
The main advantage of using nuclear power is that it can be run full time be it day or night. These reactors will also work near the poles of the planet where water is available in significant quantity. They also work well in the adverse weather conditions of the red planet. According to an engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston surface fission power is the main key strategy to land anywhere in space.
Hopefully, with the success of the fission power source, we will all be able to shuttle in and out of Mars in the near future.