Tuesday, 16 Sep, 2008 Science

NASA to Use Nuclear Reactor for Its Moon Base


NASA looks forward to build a base on the moon, which is why it is currently working on a technology development program to power the planned base. The main goal of NASA's Fission Surface Power Project is to generate in a five-year period a non-nuclear prototype unit.

The last venture of the agency into nuclear technologies started in 2003 and was dubbed Prometheus. The project was based on nuclear propulsion and nuclear-powered generators. Thus NASA was able to support its manned mission to the red planet and a number of deep-space investigations.

Despite the fact that the project ended, NASA preserved an effort to create a compact and autonomous fission reactor for its new exploration mission called Project Constellation. Scientists hope to take astronauts back to the moon by 2020 to set a base prior to its manned mission to Mars and other parts of our solar system.

The project is estimated at $10 million a year. This week the agency signed two agreements for power conversion units for its projects that are used to transform the heat of nuclear reaction into electricity. NASA will need a system able to generate about 40 kilowatts of electricity that can light up in average eight homes.

The agency will launch its system cold and without any radioactive elements until starting its maneuvers on the surface of Earth's natural satellite. Scientists at NASA will probably bury the system so that the lunar soil can play the role of a shield. Lee Mason, the manager of the project, assured that there would be no nuclear materials used in the ground system.

"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 Mr. Masson.

The engineers will have to challenge severe, radioactive mediums and extreme temperatures of space.

"As you get further and further out, the missions get longer and longer, and you're going to have to have higher and higher power levels. You're probably going to have to have nuclear, and I think that will be recognized not only here in the U.S., but around the world," said John Warren, who oversees the program at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C.

Source: Discovery

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