NASA recently successfully tested a new compact nuclear reactor intended for space exploration that will provide future long-term missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The new reactor called 'Kilopower' uses a sterling generator to convert the heat energy created by the uranium-235 reactor to produce 10 kilowatts of energy, which is enough to power several homes. The reactor itself is no bigger than roughly two cans of soda stacked on top of each other and can generate the energy for about 10 years.
NASA says about 4 of these reactors can power a fully equipped off-planet research base, which is especially important for the moon as solar power would be inefficient since the night on the moon lasts 14 days in certain areas. The reactor was also put through a gauntlet of environmental tests and failure simulations to test its stability. Weather conditions, faulty pipes, and cooling ducts were all thrown at it and Kilopower passed with flying colors.
Marc Gibson, the lead Engineer on the project had this to say “We understand the reactor very well, and this test proved that the system works the way we designed it to work. No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well.”
This is a huge step for future space missions and will bring us one step closer to having long-term outposts on the Moon and Mars.