NASA Conducted First Tests on Fission Power System for Manned Missions to Red Planet

The first tests on a fission power system intended for manned missions to the red planet have been successful, according to the agencies of the U.S. government. The Department of Energy and NASA announced the results of the tests in Las Vegas, Nevada. This March, they also had a full test of the power system.

The project called Kilopower has the mission to design a small fission power system. Its first testing started November last year at the Nevada National Security Site of Department of Energy. Its goal is to help future space missions to have the needed energy, possibly in exploring Mars and then all the other planets in the solar system.

The Kilopower project can be used for exploration of the moon and other planets. However, its main goal has been Mars. A human going on a mission to Mars would likely need about 40 to 50 kilowatts of power. With the project’s testing being quite successful, operations going smoothly and predictions being right, there is a good chance mission to Mars is one-step closer.

The nuclear power system's test design used a reactor core in the size similar to a roll of paper towels and made of uranium-235. Apart from powering space mission, this technology could also be used to power life-support systems, run equipment, recharge vehicles, mine resources for astronauts and more.

Between 1969 and 1972, it has only been six times NASA astronauts were able to visit Earth’s moon. It has been a goal of the institution to establish a long-standing colony on moon’s surface or any other planet for that matter. It has been proven difficult to do this. Missions like this will need a strong enough power source that can support a base.

At the same time, it also has to be light enough that it will be easy to transport through space. Mars is especially one of the space environments difficult in terms of power systems. This is because of the red planet’s extremely cold nighttime temperatures, less sunlight, and dust storms that can last for weeks or months and can even surround the whole planet.

The condition of Mar’s surface makes it difficult to explore it without a power source. This is where the small size but great strength of Kilopower plays an important role. This power system could possibly transport multiple systems on only one landing vehicle. If this could happen, then a base or a colony would have power up to tens of kilowatts.