NASA To Test Technology To Help Future Human Colonization Of Mars

First Posted: Jul 05, 2017 06:40 PM EDT

NASA is reportedly working on small nuclear fission reactors that could help cross one of the last technical barriers to support life on Mars. After scientists had established the presence of water on the Red Planet, one of their primary goals became energy generation.

According to Independent, the small nuclear fusion reactors are 6.5 feet tall and developed as part of a Kilopower project over the last three years. The reactors work by splitting uranium atoms in half to produce heat that can be made into electricity. Mars receives only about a third of the sunlight than Earth does; therefore, depending on solar power on the Red Planet is difficult.

NASA would start testing the reactors in September this year. If the reactor units’ design and performance pass the tests on Earth, then they would be tested on Mars. The project reportedly costs approximately $14 million and its key partners are NASA’s Glenn Research Center and the U.S. Department of Energy.

As per NASA in 2008, the amount of power needed for a human expedition to Mars would be equal to what is needed for about eight hours on Earth, which would be around 40 kilowatts. This amount would be essential for generating water, air, fuel, as well as recharging batteries for science equipment and rovers. Each of the reactors being currently developed would generate up to 10 kilowatts of power. Therefore, four units would be required to power up a human colony of eight people.

Incidentally, the last fission reactor to be tested by the American space agency was the Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) in the 1960s. SNAP’s system of radioisotope thermoelectric generators has propelled dozens of space missions including the Mars Curiosity robotic rover. "It will be the first time that we operate a fission reactor that could be used in space since the1960s SNAP program," Glenn Research Center’s Lee Mason said.

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