NASA tests small nuclear reactor that could power a habitat on Mars

The compact system can reliably generate power, a must for distant space travel.

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Everyone from Elon Musk to Donald Trump wants to send a crewed mission to Mars in the not too distant future, but there are quite a few problems that need to be solved before we can achieve that goal. A major one is the issue of energy. Long-term stays on Mars, or anywhere else for that matter, will require lots of energy, as will the trip back to Earth. However, loading a rocket up with all of the necessary fuel won't work -- we would need too much. So a way to create fuel on the go is a must and researchers at NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy announced today that they've conducted successful tests of a system that can do just that.

Kilopower is a small nuclear reactor that can generate a reliable power supply. Versions range from 1 kilowatt -- enough to power a basic toaster -- to ten kilowatts and Kilopower project researchers said in a Space.com article that around four or five of the latter would be needed to power a habitat on Mars. "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," Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said during a press conference today.

Testing of the Kilopower system has gone smoothly so far and in March, the team plans to conduct a full-power test. To hear more about how Kilopower works, check out the video below.

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