Nasa has successfully tested a nuclear reactor the agency will use to power human colonies on Mars and the moon.
The agency plans to use the mini fission reactor to provide electricity to off-Earth outposts and turn space resources into the breathable air, water and rocket fuel.
Nasa has now set its sights on flight tests to see how the 'Kilopower' system would perform in space, a senior official told reporters at a press conference.
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Nasa has successfully tested a nuclear reactor the agency will use to power human colonies on Mars and the moon. It plans to use the mini fission reactor to provide electricity to off-Earth outposts. Pictured is an artist's impression of the 'Kilopower' system on the lunar surface
'When we go to the moon, and eventually on to Mars, we are likely going to need large power sources and not rely on the sun,' Jim Reuter, Nasa's acting associate administrator for space technology, explained Wednesday during a news briefing at Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland, Ohio.
'Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration.
'I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.'
On long missions to the moon and beyond, astronauts would struggle to provide energy for their operations using traditional fuels.
Liquid or gas-based fuels are flammable and heavy, making them dangerous and expensive to carry long distances.
A nuclear reactor could generate huge amounts of energy while taking up very little space, and without the need to refuel.
Nasa has now set its sights on flight tests to see how the 'Kilopower' system would perform in space, a senior official told reporters at a press conference yesterday. Pictured is the reactor during its most recent test at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Nevada
NASA is testing a radical 'nuclear engine' that could provide power for astronauts on the Martian surface.
Dubbed the 'Kilopower' it would use a uranium rector the size of a toilet roll to create heat.
The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core.
Reactor heat is transferred via passive sodium heat pipes, with that heat then converted to electricity by high-efficiency Stirling engines.
A Stirling engine uses heat to create pressure forces that move a piston, which is coupled to an alternator to produce electricity, similar in some way to an automobile engine.
It will be able to do so safely because the fuel contained within it is only mildly reactive until the system is switched on.
This means it can be transported over long distances without the inherent risks of carrying flammable or explosive fuels.
'Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems, with less