Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.
At a news conference in Las Vegas, officials from the NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA’s Kilopower project.
Months-long testing of the system began in November at the energy department’s Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future human and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations.
A key hurdle for any lengthy human mission on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA’s six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to meet the various energy needs to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transportation
“Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
“So Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power,” Jurczyk added.