Thermoelectric technology has an important role in space travel and discovery, which we have laid out extensively in previous blog posts, but what about nuclear power?
A team at NASA has announced the completion of initial tests done on a new kind of power system that could help power missions into deep space. Current space rovers utilize radioisotope thermoelectric generators for power, but scientists have discovered a need for something even stronger. They are testing a power system strong enough to power entire bases on the moon and Mars while also providing astronauts the ability to generate their own resources.
The compact nuclear power system that NASA recently tested is called Kilopower. This device generates power through the use of uranium and something called nuclear fission. The process of fission creates heat, then heat is converted into electricity through Stirling radioisotope generator. These generators are based off of the Stirling engine and is work similar to radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs).
Ideally, Kilopower will create constant energy for multiple centuries and provide astronauts with enough power for tools that can create oxygen, water, and rocket fuel. The device will have the ability of self-regulation, as it is equipped with an internal temperature control system similar to a thermostat. This way, it will never overheat or become too cool.
Nuclear energy has a particularly negative connotation and has left a bad taste in many mouths. To combat this, scientists at NASA will continually test this technology, create compartments that can properly store used reactor fuel, as well as research methods to protect astronauts from any possible radiation. These methods include building protective devices into the reactor itself and burying portions of the reactor in the surface of a planet or moon.
We look forward to learning about future tests with Kilopower and how these sustainable technologies can help power space exploration.
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