Mini Nuclear Reactors Could Power Space Colonies

by Darnell Clayton on December 4, 2009

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Growing up on Star Trek, I was always told that space was the final frontier. What they never told me was that space is about as friendly to the human body as being microwaved alive in a frozen tundra–in essence, shelter is a necessity.

Like any Earthen home or building, an off world shelter on the Moon or Mars will need energy to keep its residents comfortable (not to mention alive), and power outages of any sort will not be tolerated–unless a person desires to be radiated and frozen (which is probably not a great way to “kick the bucket”).

While some may look towards solar power to help keep the lights on and the heat flowing, it may be wiser instead to look at an upcoming “fission battery” from Hyperion Power Generation to power future colonies on the Moon, Mars, and perhaps an plasma rocket powered starship as well.

Originally created by Dr. Otis Peterson while on staff at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Hyperion Power Generation (which I’ll call HPG for short) has licensed Dr. Peterson’s miniature nuclear reactor which are actually small enough to fit inside a decent sized hot tub.

Despite their small stature (being 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters), one of these mini-reactors could provide enough energy to power 20,000 average sized American homes (or 70 MW’s of thermal energy in geek speak) and can last up to ten years.

Since HPG is designing these mini-nuclear reactors to require little human assistance (the “little” having to do with burying the reactors underground), these “nuclear batteries” would enable NASA (or a wealthy space company) to power an outpost on the Moon or Mars without having to rely upon the Sun’s rays–at least as a primary source for power.

HPG’s mini-reactors could also help power future star ships heading towards Jupiter or Saturn (or even beyond), providing enough energy to not only keep the humans on board alive and comfortable, but provide enough thrust via plasma rockets as well.

Scheduled to be released in 2013, these mini-reactors are priced at around $50 million each, which probably puts it outside the price range of the average private space corporation.

Despite the cost, it may be wise for NASA, the European Space Agency, Japan, India and (if the US is in a really good trusting mood) China to consider installing one (or several) of these mini-reactors for their respective bases, as it could enable humanity to actually do what has been depicted in scifi films and television shows–seek out new homes on new worlds and spread ourselves throughout the universe.

Source: Hyperion Power Generation, Inc., Image Credit: NASA

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