According to NASA engineers who spoke at the recent National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, the Kilipower Project began testing the current reactor iteration in November 2017. It’s a small-scale reactor designed to produce power in the 1-10 kilowatt range, as the name implies. One kilowatt is about what you’d need to power a toaster or a few laptops, and the test design should reliably produce that much. That’s not enough to power an entire Mars habitat, though. NASA estimates you would need 40-50kW of power, so it may send several small KRUSTY devices if it cannot develop a single reactor that can reach the necessary power levels. The Curiosity rover, by comparison, uses about 200W (0.2 kW).
The system is between five and six feet tall, but the uranium-235 nuclear fission core is about the size of a paper towel roll. Heat from the rector is distributed by a series of sodium heat pipes. The heat generates power via a high-efficiency Stirling engine, which drives a mechanical flywheel and piston via the repeated expansion of gases. By coupling the engine to an alternator, the system produces power.
I believe this was reported earlier, but it is always worth reiterating. One of the essential components of ISRU is readily available on Mars, more so than on the Moon. Of course, the Moon is only a few days away from Earth…
NASA Finds Vast Deposits of Ice Just Under Martian Surface – ExtremeTech
it is a new year, and time to start a new cycle of meetings!
The meeting is on Sunday, Jan 28th at 6PM, at Norma’s Cafe in Plano, near Rt. 75 and 15th street.
We have a new year of activities, including the upcoming Dallas Science Fair judging, and longer term planning for Moon Day, and of course, URC.
This is in many way, will be a year of transitions. I wanted to pass on a thought I had:
We noted with sadness the passing of John Young, Apollo 16 moon walker, on Jan 5 of this year. This leaves only 5 moon walkers left (Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11, Alan Bean of Apollo 12, Dave Scott of Apollo 15, Charlie Duke of Apollo 16, and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17), less than half the original 12, and now no crew has both Moon walkers left. John Young also orbited the moon in Apollo 10, meaning that with his passing there are only two of the three original ‘double moon shot’ astronauts. What this means is that the Apollo generation, the one that inspired so many (including me) and left such giant footsteps to follow, is fading into history.
Replacing them is a new generation of explorers, progressing forwards without the huge scrutiny, public fascination, or giant (and fickle) government budgets, but whose progress and impact promises to be a steadier, more lasting one. The same month that John Young passes looks to be the first engine test, and very soon after that, the first launch, of the Falcon Heavy.
The largest rocket in terms of payload since the Saturn V, its launch will herald an era where the US has the heavy lift capability needed for manned space exploration. Only, totally unlike the Saturn V, the Falcon 9 Heavy is a privately funded rocket, developed in a fraction of the time, cost, and manpower of its historical ancestor. Behind it is the New Glenn and New Shepherd from Blue Origin, and the NASA SLS. The first deep space mission for the Falcon 9 Heavy is already booked – a manned mission to fly by the moon, paid for by private individuals. Blue Origin’s New Shepherd looks to be ready for manned test flights in a year or two, and SpaceX and Boeing look ready to put astronauts back into space with American hardware by 2019. A small New Zealand company, Rocket Lab, just put their first rocket into orbit In other words, space exploration is shifting to many private firms that will soon make space travel far more numerous and cheaper than the giant government programs of before could ever make possible.
It may not seem like it today, but I think we are on the cusp of a new age of space exploration, bigger and faster than the Apollo that awed me as a child.
We are wrapping up 2017, and looking forward to a new 2018. After many years of relatively slow progress in Space exploration, I feel that the wheels of progress are beginning to turn faster.
Looking back, we have two rovers still working on Mars (Opportunity and Curiosity), we had Cassini’s dramatic end to an incredible mission, and ongoing discoveries from Jupiter, and even beyond the solar system with Voyager.
SpaceX has increased its operational tempo to the point that the launching and recovering – and even re-using – of rockets has become almost routine – including a launch to the ISS of a recycled dragon capsule. Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin did more test flights of their tourist sub orbital rockets. The SLS continues development, and mission plans for more deep space missions are in the final evaluation stages at NASA. We have a new national Space Council established in 2017, and a new NASA administrator (maybe… he’s still awaiting confirmation) – Rep Bridenstine. While he holds views on Global Warming that are controversial, he is a strong proponent of private space initiatives and is considered friendly to the cause of deep space exploration. Lastly, we had an official announcement from the White House that the US will have a goal of manned deep space exploration by returning to the Moon. While this is not Mars direct, it is more progress than endlessly circling the Earth.
Looking forward, 2018 looks to be a watershed year with the (finally!) launch of the Falcon 9 Heavy, the largest lift capacity since the Saturn V, possibly in January. A crewed dragon is expected to launch to the ISS in 2018, bringing the US back to being able to launch our own astronauts into space rather than relying on the Russians. Scheduled for the fourth quarter (so it could slide into 2019) is a flight by two private individuals to fly by the moon. This is an interesting development where private funding is enabling a dramatically more rapid, and cheaper, approach to space exploration than a traditional government contracting approach, or even commercial contracting by the government. As launch costs continue to drop dramatically, will private enterprise overtake government agencies as the primary explorers of deep space?
In the Mars Society and our local chapter, we’ve seen this growing excitement. As public interest in Mars and space exploration increases local museums have invited us to 4 local events, versus the two in 2016. Our relationship with the Frontiers of Flight museum has deepened, and we were invited for the first time by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. We continued our judging at the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and we were invited by the NSS to speak at the Texas Regional Space Development Conference. All of these were exciting events, and we appreciate our local partners in the community for giving us these opportunities. I also want to thank all of our members who volunteered their time and effort that made these events happen.
While we were homeless for much of 2017 as our old haunt at the Spaghetti Warehouse closed, we found a new home right next door at Norma’s.
Nationally, we had another great conference in Los Angeles, with increasing attendance and an increasing number of small businesses showing interest in the convention and Mars and Space exploration. I enjoyed presenting two presentations at the convention, and there were a lot of dynamic talks and side discussions.
Last, but not least, the University Rover Challenge continues to grow, with a record breaking 2017 year, and now over 90 teams applying for 2018. We need more volunteers!.
This coming year is going to be even more exciting than the last!