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NASA successfully tests a new nuclear reactor for space

NASA wants to use the mini fission nuclear reactor called Kilopower in space to help future astronauts have longer missions.

NASA has teamed with the US Department of Energy to develop a new kind of reactor to be used for space exploration missions.

NASA's Kilopower project works to build the kind of technology that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system so astronauts can have longer trips to planets.

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system that can deliver 10 kilowatts of electrical power. That's enough to power several average households continuously for at least 10 years.

The prototype system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, roughly around the size of a paper towel roll. Sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to the high-efficiency Stirling engines, which then convert the heat to electricity.

Kilopower was tested at the Nevada National Security Administration site from November 2017 through March 2018. NASA successfully demonstrated that this new nuclear reactor power system could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and other planets.

NASA announced the test results of the demonstration of its Kilopower reactor, during a news conference Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. 

"Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration," Jim Reuter, NASA's acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), said in a statement. "I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve."

The recent experiment in Nevada demonstrated that the system can create electricity with fission power, and to show the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters, which is crucial for missions to succeed on far-away planets.

"We put the system through its paces," said Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio,. "We understand the reactor very well, and this test proved that the system works the way we designed it to work. No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well."

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