NASA has received quite a bit of heat in recent years because of their utilization of fossil fuel to power their missions. Now, however, it seems that an alternative is in place. Nuclear power may replace the need for fossil fuel as space exploration continues to evolve.
What is Nuclear Power?
In its simplest form, nuclear power is a process of fission that results from splitting uranium atoms. When these atoms are split, an abundance of energy is released in the form of heat. This heat can then be used to produce steam, which, as we know, is capable of providing an abundant amount of power that can be used for a variety of purposes, including the generation of electricity.
As you know, our current power source is fuel, which is a limited resource. Additionally, as most are aware, fuel-based power is harmful to the environment, and the top environmental scientists and engineers have been scrambling for decades to find an alternative. This is why nuclear power has become a more and more attractive power resource as time goes on. Unlike fuel, nuclear power does not release greenhouse gas emissions that damage the environment.
Currently, about 20 percent of America’s power comes from nuclear fission. That number has risen tremendously over the last decade, primarily because of growing concerns relating to the environment. Besides being environmentally friendly, nuclear power is extremely cost-efficient compared to the burning of fuel.
Is NASA Using Nuclear Power?
NASA’s relationship with the Department of Energy goes way back, mostly because NASA’s missions require, as you can imagine, a massive amount of power. As more and more experts are concerned about the burning of fuel as our country’s primary power source, the pressure continues to rise as NASA is criticized for its contribution to the environmental crisis.
However, NASA is, in fact, interested in changing their ways. NASA leaders recently met with the Department of Energy in Las Vegas in order to discuss ways in which to implement nuclear power into their missions. The Department of Energy proposed the Kilopower Project, which would be a series of nuclear power plants developed primarily for space missions led by NASA as well as independently funded space travel companies.
NASA has, as it turns out, tested alternative power sources in the past. Most notably, Voyagers 1 and 2 were fueled by radioisotope thermoelectric generators. While these sources of power are technically clean, they’re also highly inefficient in terms of energy and cost. Meanwhile, nuclear power is a highly efficient way to aid in space travel, and NASA has been researching it for years. In fact, NASA has been sporadically attempting to implement nuclear power into their missions since 1965 with no success. NASA has also been loosely considering solar power, although it’s still not nearly as efficient as nuclear power.
The Kilopower Project, however, is extremely efficient and relatively simple. Plus, it’s highly cost-efficient, which is extremely important considering NASA’s budget. It utilizes active nuclear fission that is grabbed from a uranium alloy core that’s far more efficient than radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The core is also more reliable and consistent, which is crucial in terms of space travel.
What inspired the Kilopower Project was NASA’s interest in sending astronauts to Mars. Such an involved trip would require a massive amount of power, and so NASA is looking into alternative sources. Plus, the general public is more environmentally conscious than ever before, and NASA could receive massive backlash for utilizing so much fuel in order to power the mission.
Presently, it appears that the Kilopower project is the most promising energy alterative to date. It’s also safe to say that it’s the only alternative energy source that is being thoroughly considered and tested for NASA-related purposes. Part of its appeal from NASA’s perspective is that it allows for much larger missions to take place without having to rely on fuel. As of now, the tests that utilize the Kilopower reactor have been overwhelmingly successful. Therefore, it’s not hard to imagine that NASA will be turning to nuclear power completely sometime within the next few years. And, of course, this is great news for environmentalists.
NASA’s Time to Make the Switch
Most experts agree that it’s time for NASA to switch over to nuclear power, and now, thanks to the Kilopower project, it looks like that’s a strong possibility. Never before has there been such a promising method for delivering power for space travel purposes. Time will tell if NASA takes the leap for the betterment of our environment.