The Kilopower project is a near-term technology effort to develop preliminary concepts and technologies that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system to enable long-duration stays on planetary surfaces
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After successful completion of the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment in March 2018, the Kilopower project team is developing mission concepts and performing additional risk reduction activities to prepare for a possible future flight demonstration. Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, enabling mission operations in harsh environments and missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilization to produce local propellants and other materials.

The Kilopower project is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program, which is managed by NASA’s Langley Research Center. The Flight Opportunities program funded the parabolic and suborbital flights that matured the Kilopower technology’s titanium water heat pipes by exposing it to space-relevant environments through the use of commercial reusable suborbital launch vehicles. The project will remain a part of the GCD program with the goal of transitioning to the Technology Demonstration Mission program in Fiscal Year 2020.

NASA is pursuing development and research of the Kilopower project in order to meet the agency’s anticipated future planetary surface power needs. The objective of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Kilopower project is to demonstrate space fission power systems technology to enable crewed surface missions on planetary bodies:

NASA and its partners hosted a news conference on Jan. 18 at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, to discuss a recent experiment involving a new power source that could provide the safe, efficient and plentiful energy needed for future robotic and human space exploration missions. Representatives from NASA, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Los Alamos National Laboratory and Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) discussed and took questions from the media on the Kilopower project, which aims to demonstrate space fission power systems technology that has the potential to enable future crewed surface missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Testing began in November 2017 and is expected to continue through March:

The Kilopower project team is led by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA); and NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, and Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). Testing occurred from November 2017 to March 2018 at the National Criticality Experiments Research Center in the Device Assembly Facility at the NNSS.

Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY system)  /  image by Los Alamos National Laboratory  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

NASA and NNSA engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY system). The vacuum chamber is later evacuated to simulate the conditions of space when KRUSTY operates.

The Kilopower prototype includes a Stirling power conversion system  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The Kilopower project is a near-term technology effort to develop preliminary concepts and technologies that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system to enable long-duration stays on planetary surfaces.

Marc Gibson shows journalists a power system prototype  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The Stirling Research Lab at NASA’s Glenn Research Center on May 2, 2018. The prototype was designed to orient the Stirling engines in an opposed configuration to cancel out their inertial forces during operation. This dual-opposed architecture was tested extensively throughout the Kilopower project, but a single-engine architecture ultimately was chosen for the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTy) test.

A power system prototype on display in the Stirling Research Lab on May 2, 2018  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The prototype was designed to orient the Stirling engines in an opposed configuration to cancel out their inertial forces during operation. This dual-opposed architecture was tested extensively throughout the Kilopower project, but a single-engine architecture ultimately was chosen for the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTy) test.

A power system prototype on display in the Stirling Research Lab on May 2, 2018  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The prototype was designed to orient the Stirling engines in an opposed configuration to cancel out their inertial forces during operation. This dual-opposed architecture was tested extensively throughout the Kilopower project, but a single-engine architecture ultimately was chosen for the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTy) test.

Artist Concept of New Fission Power System  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond. NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment,during a news conference Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experimentwas conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.

Kilopower  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

Concept for a fission power system on the surface of Mars using four 10-kilowatt units.

NASA researchers study titanium water heat pipes in lunar and Martian gravity during a 2013 parabolic flight test  /  image by NASA, Robert Markowitz  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The Flight Opportunities program funded the parabolic and suborbital flights that matured the Kilopower titanium water heat pipes by exposing them to a space-relevant environment. From left to right: Max Briggs (NASA’s Glenn Research Center), Paul DeLeon (NASA’s Ames Research Center), Jim Sanzi (Vantage Partners) and Marc Gibson (Glenn).

Kilopower  /  image by NNSS  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The Kilopower Stirling engine assembly.

Kilopower assembly  /  image by NNSS  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

Marc Gibson, Kilopower lead engineer, and Jim Sanzi, Vantage Partners, install hardware on the Kilopower assembly at the Nevada National Security Site in March 2018.

The assembled Kilopower  /  image by NASA  /  source NASA.gov  /  license CC0

The assembled Kilopower experiment enclosed in a vacuum chamber at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

Source and references

  1. NASA.gov - Kilopower
  2. Wikipedia.org - Kilopower
  3. NASA.gov - Powering Up NASA’s Human Reach for the Red Planet
  4. NASA.gov - Demonstration Proves Nuclear Fission System Can Provide Space Exploration Power
  5. YouTube.com by NASA Video - Kilopower: A Gateway to Abundant Power for Exploration
  6. YouTube.com by NASA - Kilopower Press Conference – Jan. 18, 2018
  7. NASA.gov - In-situ Resource Utilization
  8. NASA.gov - Game Changing Development
  9. NASA.gov - Flight Opportunities
  10. NASA.gov - Technology Demonstration Mission

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Last updated 3 months ago on July 13, 2019 at 7:54 PM PDT

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