(Image: An artist's concept of a fission surface power system on the surface of the moon. The nuclear reactor has been buried below the lunar surface to make use of lunar soil as additional radiation shielding. The engines that convert heat energy to electricity are in the tower above the reactor, and radiators extend out from the tower to radiate into space any leftover heat energy that has not been converted to electricity. Credit: NASA)
With America's favorite (and only) space agency drawing up plans for lunar habitats, NASA is now turning its attention on how to power the lunar outposts.
Despite the fact that other space agencies and companies are working on innovative ways to keep the lights on via green technology, NASA is looking at something that has been tried and tested--nuclear power.
(NASA) NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power and taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system.
A fission surface power system on the moon has the potential to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, enough for about eight houses on Earth. It works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power. The fission surface power system can produce large amounts of power in harsh environments, like those on the surface of the moon or Mars, because it does not rely on sunlight. The primary components of fission surface power systems are a heat source, power conversion, heat rejection and power conditioning, and distribution.
"Our goal is to build a technology demonstration unit with all the major components of a fission surface power system and conduct non-nuclear, integrated system testing in a ground-based space simulation facility," said Lee Mason, principal investigator for the test at NASA's Glenn Center in Cleveland. "Our long-term goal is to demonstrate technical readiness early in the next decade, when NASA is expected to decide on the type of power system to be used on the lunar surface."
According to NASA, the nuclear reactor would be very different then the ones built on Earth, with the reactor size being "about the size of an office trash can."
Even though this would be about a decade away from becoming a reality, NASA may have a tough fight on their hands from activist groups who may not be comfortable with a rocket launching a nuclear reactor into space (even for peaceful purposes).
Building a nuclear reactor on the Moon is probably inevitable--especially when one considers how much helium-3 is on the lunar surface.
(Hat Tip: Physorg.com)
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