The discovery earlier this month that the planet is hiding massive water ice reserves just beneath its surface could have far-reaching ramifications, possibly giving future humans on Mars easy access to water supplies.
When astronauts someday venture to the Moon, Mars and other destinations, one of the first and most important resources they will need is power. "As a former astronaut I can assure you that having reliable power sources is critical for venturing away from low Earth orbit", she said. The U.S. based space agency is operating in collaboration with the "US Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration" in order to test the newly developed system with nuclear fission as the core power source. Long-term stays on Mars, or anywhere else for that matter, will require lots of energy, as will the trip back to Earth.More news: Major League Baseball to implement pitch clock without player approval
Any reactor used for Moon and Mars missions would have to be quite durable and capable of handling rough elements. A number of different solutions are in testing, of course, but one in particular could be the key. Called Kilopower, or KRUSTY (Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology), the reactor comes in several versions to meet certain power needs, from 1 kilowatt (enough to power a small kitchen appliance) to 10 kilowatts, four or five of which would be required to provide power for a habitat on Mars.
"This reactor won't be turned on until it's deep into space", Said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at Los Alamos.More news: Trump says Democrats don't want to make a deal on DACA
The result is a fission reactor fueled by a solid block of highly enriched uranium alloy and cooled using pipes clamped to the core that transfer heat to Stirling generators to be converted to electricity. The engines use heat to create pressure forces that move a piston, which is coupled to an alternator to produce electricity, similar to how a auto engine works.
"The gap that exists for Mars and our desire to send humans there is that the power requirements are so much greater than what we've flown with robotic systems", he said. The nuclear-powered satellite was shut down after 43 days due to an electrical failure not related to its power source. However, loading a rocket up with all of the necessary fuel won't work - we would need too much. Solar power, for example, relies on consistent sunlight. On Mars, the sun's power varies widely throughout the seasons, and periodic dust storms can last for months. Nuclear energy operates regardless of the weather or time of day.More news: White House insiders tussle over Donald Trump vulgarity
Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system created to sustain a long-duration Nasa human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.