LAS VEGAS – Scientists tested a new nuclear reactor in Nevada that could power future trips to outer space.
NASA and the Department of Energy on Wednesday announced the Kilopower fission reactor performed better than expected during a 28-hour, full-power test completed last month inside a vacuum chamber at the Nevada National Security Site, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
"Really everything ran perfectly during the test," said Kilopower lead engineer Marc Gibson.
The test marked the end of five months of space-qualified nuclear reactor at the site, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas.
The goal of the project is to develop a safe, compact and reliable source of electricity for future mened and unmanned missions to the moon, Mars and other places beyond the Earth's orbit.
"As we are looking forward to exploring the moon and eventually Mars, we are going to need not to be dependent on the sun, especially if we're going to live off the land," said James Reuter, NASA's acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, DC
The Kilopower prototype, which crews started working on in 2012, is designed to generate up to 3 kilowatts of electricity, but engineers envision a larger version capable of producing 10 kW, enough to light 100 100-watt bulbs.
A crew on Mars could use four or five of the larger reactors to run their habitat, charge their vehicles and produce drinkable water and breathable air when dim sunlight or dust storms render solar panels ineffective.
The technology could be scaled up even more to power orbiting space stations, asteroid mining operations or the engines of spacecraft, project officials said.
Kilopower was designed, built and tested for about $ 20 million, said Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico.
The result is a self-regulating reactor that powers up and does not require coolant or even a control system.
"We are doing the physics of the reactor design simple," Poston said.
The next step for the Kilopower will be seen in the reactor performs in space.
No flight tests have been scheduled yet.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com