Today, scientists dream of one day building settlements on the moon and even Mars, where research can be done and humans can live safely for months or years. Making this dream take a lot of work and one of the most pressing problems is power.
The Department of Energy and NASA believe nuclear power could be the way to go, and a prototype fission reactor has already been promised in tests here on Earth. Now like Space.com Reports DOE believes there may be a useful version of the reactor ready to launch immediately after 2022, much sooner than NASA would be willing to send humans to the moon, not to mention Mars.
"I think we could do this in three years and be ready to fly," said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project manager during a July presentation. "I think three years is a very doable time."
Generating energy from a fission reaction in space is very similar to returning to Earth, or at least the Energy Ministry believes that. All you need is the ability to extract the heat that results from splitting atoms and converting them to electricity using an engine. You lose a lot in conversion – in fact, in early tests, the Kilopower reactor shows only 30 percent efficiency – but it is still more efficient than the nuclear power sources used in many NASA machines, including its rovers.
Kilopower reactors will be built with an estimated lifetime of 15 years, providing at least kilowatts of electricity that can be used for anything needed. A handful of these reactors will be needed to provide sufficient power for long-term missions in other worlds, but these special reactors may play a major role in future missions to Mars and beyond.