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August 13, 2019 07:00 am

Nuclear Reactor For Mars Outpost Could Be Ready To Fly By 2022

A nuclear power system that could one day provide juice to colonies on Mars is closer to being ready than previously expected. According to project team members, the Kilopower experiment fission reactor could be ready for its first in-space trial by 2022. Space.com reports: A flight test is the next big step for the Kilopower experimental fission reactor, which aced a series of critical ground tests from November 2017 through March 2018. No off-Earth demonstration is on the books yet, but Kilopower should be ready to go by 2022 or so if need be, said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "I think we could do this in three years and be ready for flight," McClure said late last month during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group. "I think three years is a very doable time frame," he added, stressing that this is his opinion, not necessarily that of NASA, which is developing the Kilopower project along with the DOE. As its name suggests, the Kilopower reactor is designed to generate at least 1 kilowatt of electrical power (1 kWe). Its output is scalable up to about 10 kWe, and it can operate for about 15 years, McClure said. So, four scaled-up Kilopower reactors could meet the energy needs of NASA explorers, with a fifth reactor likely landed to provide a spare.

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