Saturday, 3 September 2011
Nuclear reactor destined for other planets
US engineers are working on a nuclear reactor that can be deployed on other planets.
The US Department of energy (DOE) and NASA have teamed up to build a technology demonstration unit scheduled in 2012 as reported by TheEngineer.
James E Werner leads the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory involvement in this effort, which includes participation in the reactor design and modelling teams, fuel development and fabrication and development of a small electrical pump for the liquid-metal cooled system.
Sunlight and fuel cells were the classic choice for generating electricity for space missions previously, but engineers realised that solar energy has limitations. Solar cells can supply electricity in near-Earth orbits and for satellite-borne equipment, but nuclear power is said to offer some unique capabilities that could support manned outposts on other planets or moons.
‘A fission power system on the moon could generate 40kW or more of electric power — approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth,’ said Werner at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.
A fission power system is also more flexible in that it can be used in various locations such as in canyons craters or caves.
‘The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use,’ Werner said.
Werner contends that once this technology is developed tested and validated , it will prove as one of the most affordable and versatile options for providing long-term base power for the space exploration programmes.