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NASA Developing Nuclear Reactor For Moon and Mars

CmdrTaco posted about 5 years ago | from the react-to-the-reactor dept.

Power 424

Al writes "NASA recently finished testing a miniature nuclear reactor that would provide power for an astronaut base on the Moon or Mars. The reactor combines a small fission system with a Stirling engine to make a 'safe, reliable, and efficient' way to produce electricity. The system being tested at NASA's Glenn Research Center can produce 2.3 kilowatts and could be ready for launch by 2020, NASA officials say. The reactor ought to provide much more power than solar panels but could prove controversial with the public concerned about launching a nuclear power source and placing it on the Moon or another planet."

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mmhmmm (1, Interesting)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | about 5 years ago | (#29093639)

Yeah, until the fuel runs out. I'm pretty sure that with solar panels, the sun never runs out. I wonder how much it costs to call up Uranium-R-Us and have them run up some more nuclear fuel. I suppose they'd be smart and bring enough for like 100 years but still, it's a bit more dangerous than solar and results in a radioactive byproduct. I saw with the recent advances in solar energy, why not just put some really efficient solar panels up there instead?

Re:mmhmmm (3, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 5 years ago | (#29093751)

The specs would have this thing lasting 8 years.

And yeah, the sun does run out. Or at least it isn't useful when it goes through an extended night. Or if it is in a location that doesn't get direct sun (crater).

Re:mmhmmm (1, Insightful)

Reapman (740286) | about 5 years ago | (#29093755)

I think Solar panels would be more problematic. Your right in that "the sun doesn't run out", but there's a lot more to consider. IAMAS (I'm not a Scientist) but wouldn't Solar Panels require more work to keep functional? They've always struct me as rather fragile compared to a nuclear power planet. Plus after the rovers and the problems with keeping their solar panels cleared of dust and such, I don't think you'd get 100 years out of a solar panel like you would with Nuclear.

Considering how hostile the moon's atmosphere (or lack there of) is, do you really think Uranium is going to screw up the environment on the MOON???

Re:mmhmmm (2, Interesting)

gnick (1211984) | about 5 years ago | (#29094291)

...after the rovers and the problems with keeping their solar panels cleared of dust...

If the panel isn't moving around, dust shouldn't be much of a problem on the moon. Although I've never visited, I understand that dust storms there are pretty infrequent.

That said, the long nights could be a real issue unless you're shipping a metric ass-load of batteries. Nuclear seems pretty reasonable.

But with all that He3, fusion should be just fine. Surely we'll have the kinks ironed out if we give ourselves 5-10 years, right? Or at least we can promise that we will so that we can secure funding?

Re:mmhmmm (2, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 5 years ago | (#29093787)

The Moon's "Day" is 28 days long. Unless you are on the poles, you have to have enough battery power for around 14 days of darkness. That said, a giant rotating mirror at one of the poles could provide a lot of power, and you could use a Stirling engine to convert the heat to electricity.

Re:mmhmmm (4, Funny)

swanzilla (1458281) | about 5 years ago | (#29093789)

Yeah, until the fuel runs out. I'm pretty sure that with solar panels, the sun never runs out.

I'm 100% sure you are wrong.

Re:mmhmmm (1)

MoldySpore (1280634) | about 5 years ago | (#29093797)

Having solar power supplement the nuclear power would be the best option for a non-Earth application I would think. Have the nuclear power supply the power that is ESSENTIAL for life on other planets (such as oxygen recyclers, any kind of plant habitats, water and waste processors, etc) and have the solar power do all the powering of the everyday amenities and emergency power storage with batteries.

Re:mmhmmm (0, Troll)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | about 5 years ago | (#29094425)

I'm not so sure I would bother. Nuclear scales pretty well; why not just increase the size of the nuclear plant by a comparatively small amount to get those amenities?

Remember, on the Moon, "day" is 650 hours long.

Re:mmhmmm (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093837)

Great idea! Its not like there's a dark side of the moon or dust storms that blanket half of mars for weeks at a time or anything. And we all know how dangerous nuclear is. Remember that time the Soviets started messing with a poorly constructed one and ignored every safety protocol and it blew up? Sounds like the hallmark of unstability. And the waste, yeesh. It's not like newer reactors can reuse the spent material you know. Solar is clearly the superior choice. Yay solar!

NUCLEAR IS NEVER THE ANSWER! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094641)

Nuclear power is NEVER a viable solution to ANY problem for the simple reason that the knowledge to create nuclear power is the knowledge to make nuclear weapons. For the simpler people in the crowd, NUCLEAR POWER EQUALS NUCLEAR WEAPONS. There is NO SUCH THING as a "peaceful" nuclear program. All nuclear material can and will be weaponized. For this reason alone nuclear power must be forever abolished and forgotten.

Re:mmhmmm (1, Interesting)

timmarhy (659436) | about 5 years ago | (#29093865)

solar panels are more fragile, don't last as long as you think and they don't work on the dark side of the moon/mars, which is a prick of a problem when that power keeps you alive.

oh and this is space we are talking about - inside the reactor is safe compared to most environments you'll encounter...

Re:mmhmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093877)

...it's a bit more dangerous than solar and results in a radioactive byproduct.

In space? You're already getting a TON more radiation from the sun than you could ever get from the reactor. We're talking about the moon and/or mars. Anyone who flies there is likely to come back sterile anyway (and die of cancer few years later).

Re:mmhmmm (4, Funny)

SBrach (1073190) | about 5 years ago | (#29093901)

Yeah we can't have dangerous, dangerous radiation in space. Think of the children.

Re:mmhmmm (3, Interesting)

ae1294 (1547521) | about 5 years ago | (#29093923)

Solar panels are great until they get dirty or worse damaged by micro-meteorites. Plus you might not have light 24/7 when you are on a large body like mars so you gotta add lots of batteries for your Solar panel setup unless you're ok with only breathing during the day...

Re:mmhmmm (1)

markov_chain (202465) | about 5 years ago | (#29094555)

The nuclear reactor could be damaged too, especially in transit. It would suck if it got to the moon and the astronauts found out it won't start. Someone tough would have to walk into the hot zone, lift the cover and start the reactor manually :D

Re:mmhmmm (5, Funny)

fracai (796392) | about 5 years ago | (#29094577)

...unless you're ok with only breathing during the day...

I don't know about you, but I SLEEP during the night. Sheesh, this isn't rocket surgery.

Re:mmhmmm (1)

Jerry (6400) | about 5 years ago | (#29093933)

Solar panels are limited by their distance from the Sun. Double the distance and you'll get only 1/4th the power. Head to the outer planets and you'll need a large collector to collect a lot of power.

For a nuclear reactor/Sterling Engine combo, the power output of 2.3KW seems awful low. Perhaps there should be two, one to back up other and to double the power output if needed.

Re:mmhmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094357)

Re: "Running with Linux for over 10 years!"

That's 10 years of douchebaggery folks!

Cheap? (2, Insightful)

Garridan (597129) | about 5 years ago | (#29093643)

"We are not building a system that needs hundreds of gigawatts of power like those that produce electricity for our cities," says Don Palac, the project manager at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH. The system needs to be cheap, safe, and robust and "our recent tests demonstrated that we can successfully build that," says Palac.

I read this as, "the system needs to come in at no more than half the cost of a gigawatt power plant". I'm all for space travel, but I can't help but flinch when I hear somebody at NASA say "cheap".

Re:Cheap? (4, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | about 5 years ago | (#29094457)

When your talking about space, spending a fortune on exotic, super lightweight materials will save you many times more than that cost in launches. Weight is the main factor in the number of things that can go up in a rocket. I think I remember hearing someone mention in the ballpark of $25,000 per pound. So while you look at Cheap as the total cost, they look at it a bit differently.

Re:Cheap? (1)

interploy (1387145) | about 5 years ago | (#29094691)

What do you mean? This is the government man. NASA has always been built on "cheap".

The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (4, Funny)

Killer Orca (1373645) | about 5 years ago | (#29093655)

Then they can give the reactor to me and I can finally send the power company a photocopy of my ass; I don't even have to worry about disposal! I hear there are plenty of countries like Iran and North Korea looking for nuclear refuse.

Re:The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#29093843)

Then they can give the reactor to me and I can finally send the power company a photocopy of my ass

What, your photocopier only works with on-site nuclear power?

Re:The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (1)

Killer Orca (1373645) | about 5 years ago | (#29093897)

Then they can give the reactor to me and I can finally send the power company a photocopy of my ass

What, your photocopier only works with on-site nuclear power?

No it will just continue to work with on-site power after I send the photocopy to the power company in place of my bill.

Re:The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (2, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#29093985)

No it will just continue to work with on-site power after I send the photocopy to the power company in place of my bill.

Maybe a sign that you should hit the gym more?

Re:The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (4, Funny)

Ogive17 (691899) | about 5 years ago | (#29094093)

What, your photocopier only works with on-site nuclear power?

Must be a very large ass if he needs a nuclear powered photocopier.

Re:The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#29094137)

What, your photocopier only works with on-site nuclear power?

Must be a very large ass if he needs a nuclear powered photocopier.

It's mean to call him that. You've never even met him!

Re:The public doesn't want it on the Moon huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094507)

"could prove controversial with the public concerned about launching a nuclear power source and placing it on the moon or another planet."

What's that, like 3 people? I'm tired of religious nuts standing in the way of human progress. Yes, radical environmentalism is both a religion and a mental disorder.

Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (4, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 5 years ago | (#29093671)

Nuclear power is actually one of the safest, cleanest, and most reliable forms of power ever invented. So long as no meteroites hit it, we should be fine. Huh. Wonder what caused all those craters on the moon.....

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (5, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | about 5 years ago | (#29093875)

And if a meteor *does* strike the reactor, we are going to contaminate the Moon with radioactivity? More than being exposed to an unshielded fusion reactor for 4.5 billion years?

        Brett

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 5 years ago | (#29093949)

Well, this is potentially for a moon colony, right? At least some portion of the reactor may need to be placed inside the habitat to make convenient monitoring and servicing possible.

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (3, Insightful)

mdm-adph (1030332) | about 5 years ago | (#29094069)

Not really -- got these things called "Space Suits," I think -- you could place the reactor away from the colony, theoretically. We'd still have to test these "Space Suits" to see if they work, possibly land some men on the moon beforehand to see if they operate correctly, of course.

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094281)

I can just see one entire $500m launch to the moon just to deliver the 100 metres of 20kW cable between the previous launch of the power plant, and "lunar habitat module 1" (the Luna range of self-assembly lunar habitats from Ikea, one bolt missing).

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (5, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | about 5 years ago | (#29094379)

Never, ever, place you power source outside the buildings.

The aliens will simply cut the line, leaving you only 120 minutes (less Coming Attraction Previews) to figure out what's going on and go fix it.

Then, of course, the first few people you send after it will be killed and turned into alien zombies.

Then, when you finally figure that out, you have to crawl through the air ducts to get to the reactor (even though the reactor is supposedly isolated from the buildings) to sneak into the Alien queen's chamber and burn her to a crisp with the flame thrower that is standard issue on a moon colony.

Sheesh...don't you guys know anything?

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (5, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about 5 years ago | (#29094167)

If a sizable meteor strikes your moon colony, you're going to be worried about the chance that it hits the reactor? Not the mess hall or the kindergarten? Any accident on the moon that gives people time to don space suits is a best-case accident. What is it about "nuclear" that makes people's brains turn off?

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 years ago | (#29094473)

At least some portion of the reactor may need to be placed inside the habitat to make convenient monitoring and servicing possible.

Well, I suppose you could stick it up on the surface where it's subject to dust and solar radiation and meteorites. Was anyone actually proposing to do that, though?

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094437)

I was going to write the comment quoted below, but then I reread your comment again and realised you weren't really protesting anything, so I no longer have anything to add, other than that I still hate hippies and anyone who's bsing about radiation and contamination, since the only thing that really matters is moving forward in the advancement of Science and Technology.

"So fucking what if we contaminate it? should we fucking live in the stone age because of faggots like you who are unwilling and don't have the brain cells to create the technology and move forward accepting the risks? Fuck you and your kind, it was the fags like you that burned "witches", I bet you're religious too arent you fucking faggot ass hippie.

If it explodes and we contaminate moon, so be it, we can deal with it later using technology, worst case scenario is it's going to be Chernobyl, and even that cleared up after a while, and we can now go into chernobyl as long as we wear protective gear (and even without)..."

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 5 years ago | (#29094463)

My thoughts exactly. The moon is already blasted with radiation all the time. There's no atmosphere, and no electromagnetic field like we have on earth. Having a nuclear meltdown on the moon wouldn't even be noticable. I guess there could be some concern over the nuclear fuel exploding on takeoff, but, I think proper precautions could be taken such that even if the launch rocket did blow up, that it wouldn't contaminate the atmosphere.

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (5, Funny)

infinite9 (319274) | about 5 years ago | (#29094505)

Lol, sounds like another opportunity! Head out to the next anti-nuclear rally and get people to sign a petition to shut down this unshielded fusion reactor. It's exposing us to several types of radiation every day, even as we speak! It causes severe burns on many people every day! Many species won't come out of their burrows because of it! While you're at it, you can ask them about their opinion of dihydrogen-monoxide.

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093961)

Theyr gonna put it underground, MORAN!!!

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (5, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 5 years ago | (#29093975)

The problem would be what exactly?
The impact to the wildlife on the moon?

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094073)

I've heard serious arguments that mining on the moon would be an exploitation of the environment.

As if some dead dust in a vacuum is an "ecosystem."

Some people just think the hand of man should leave every grain of dust where Gaia left it after the big bang.

I'm sure for these types, a nuke on the moon would just be another example of evil man exporting their non-natural evilness.

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094349)

"Nuclear power is actually one of the safest, cleanest, and most reliable forms of power ever invented."
you meant discovered

Re:Nuclear Power on the Moon FTW! (4, Funny)

SBrach (1073190) | about 5 years ago | (#29094513)

No, we all know Albert Einstein invented the atom. Just like Newton invented gravity.

Shouldn't be that dangerous (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093673)

The uranium that goes into a reactor isn't all that radioactive - it's the spent fuel that comes out that's the problem. If a rocket carrying this thing explodes on take off it isn't going to be Chernobyl. In fact, it sounds a good deal safer than all those Pu-238 RTGs that have been sent up there.

Mod parent up please (5, Informative)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 5 years ago | (#29094039)

This is the most intelligent comment on this thread so far, why it is posted as AC I cannot imagine. It reminds me of a brilliant comment on the assembly of nuclear fuel rods: that they are so nonradioactive that they can be assembled by hand. The operators wear gloves, not to protect them from the fuel, but to protect the fuel from their fingers.

What of they explode the moon? (0)

BlueKitties (1541613) | about 5 years ago | (#29093677)

It'll be just like that movie where the moon exploded and blew up the Earthlings.

Re:What of they explode the moon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093719)

Do you mean the Klingons?

It shouldn't be any more controversial... (4, Insightful)

istartedi (132515) | about 5 years ago | (#29093681)

It shouldn't be more controversial than the reactors that powered Voyager and other deep space probes. There have been protests over some of the more potentially dangerous reactors that might have caused contamination over a wide area if they blew up; but IIRC they launched anyway.

A reactor that small shouldn't require a huge ammount of fissile material. I bet it could blow up in the atmosphere and produce less radiation than we get from a day of coal fired power in the Eastern US. Coal is full of trace radioactive elements, and it adds up when you burn as much as we do.

You forget two key points. (5, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | about 5 years ago | (#29094023)

1. Ignorance.

2. The Internet

There is a whole lot of people who can now be offended at things they would never have heard of before or hand reason to be offended of. Never under estimate the ability of humans to make ignorance even more prevalent. What many thought would free us from ignorance only seemed to exaggerate it more.

I guess there is another option, it never ceases to amaze me how many people can find offense in anything. I think they have a need to be noticed or to find a way to blame others for any condition they are in.

Re:You forget two key points. (0, Troll)

Pikoro (844299) | about 5 years ago | (#29094231)

I think you would like my favorite quote (duplicated here since most people have signatures turned off):

"Freedom in the United States is not the ability to do what you want. It is the ability do stop others from doing what THEY want." - A. Anderson

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (1)

Overunderrated (1518503) | about 5 years ago | (#29094035)

It shouldn't be more controversial than the reactors that powered Voyager and other deep space probes. There have been protests over some of the more potentially dangerous reactors that might have caused contamination over a wide area if they blew up; but IIRC they launched anyway.

RTGs (Voyager) are not nuclear fission reactors, and have nowhere near the same risk elements as fission. RTG's are powered by radioactive decay, not fission.

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | about 5 years ago | (#29094223)

How is radioactive decay not fission?

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (5, Informative)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 5 years ago | (#29094279)

Kind of like how letting wood rot is not burning it.

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (2, Informative)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | about 5 years ago | (#29094571)

Fission is the splitting of the nucleus into two (or more?) large pieces. It's not a very common decay mode. The release of neutrons and the usual radioactivity of the pieces makes it dirtier.

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (1)

SBrach (1073190) | about 5 years ago | (#29094401)

There will be no fission until the reactor is safely on the moon so I don't see your point. Polluting the moon with radiation is like polluting the beach with sand. As far as launch safety, which would you rather have detonated in the Earths atmosphere, a mass of U235 or Pu238?

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | about 5 years ago | (#29094551)

Actually, an RTG has more risk than a reactor, as others have pointed out. A just-started reactor that has no spent fuel has almost no radioactivity, so if it blew up on launch and was completely torn apart, the biggest risk is just the heavy metal poisoning, not the radioactivity.

However, an RTG gets its power from the heat of the radiation, so it is required to be moderately radioactive. Even then you would try to design it to rely on alpha radiation, rather than beta or gamma, so that it can capture the most heat and pose the least danger.

Some reactor designs would pose more danger once they're running and outside of the atmosphere, but what's the risk in doing it out there on an unmanned probe? Without a magnetosphere most parts of the solar system are flooded with radiation anyway, and it really doesn't cause problems for non-living things. The only place where I'd say there's legitimate concern is a mission to explore the oceans of Europa, or somewhere else we think there's the possibility of life.

Re:It shouldn't be any more controversial... (5, Informative)

lgw (121541) | about 5 years ago | (#29094351)

Uranium is "huggably safe" before a reactor is actually turned on. With a half-life of a billion years it's more dangerous as a heavy metal than anything else.

Plutonium is nasty if powdered or vaporized, but NASA designed a "safe" for the Cassini plutonium RTG that would survive being dropped at any point during the launch path.

The hydrazine [wikipedia.org] fuel used in the maneuvering thrusters in spacecraft and the Space Shuttle's APUs is amazingly toxic. In most scenarios a tank of hydrazine is more of a danger than a lump of plutonium. Off-Earth, a hydrazine APU is just exposing astronauts to unneeded danger to avoid "scary nuclear scary scary".

Rather there than here... (1)

TWX (665546) | about 5 years ago | (#29093713)

For some reason, I'm not too concerned with having a nuclear reactor on the Moon or on Mars. Sure, there are risks in launching it, but it's probably not going to be operating while it's being launched, so I'm not especially worried about that either.

Besides, in 90 years, when they've built up a huge moonbase and a large stockpile of spent nuclear material, it can explode and send the moon hurtling out of the solar system! It'll be Space: 19992099!

Re:Rather there than here... (1)

TWX (665546) | about 5 years ago | (#29093777)

Damn "s" for strikethrough didn't work :(

Engine (5, Informative)

Manfred Maccx (1365933) | about 5 years ago | (#29093727)

It's a Stirling Engine....not Sterling.

Re:Engine (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | about 5 years ago | (#29093953)

Well, what if it was made from .925 pure silver?

Re:Engine (1)

PitaBred (632671) | about 5 years ago | (#29094687)

Then it'd be a sterling stirling.

Sterling engine? (5, Informative)

Colonel Sponsz (768423) | about 5 years ago | (#29093737)

An engine made out of silver [wikipedia.org] ? Or just a generally excellent [merriam-webster.com] one? Ah, a Stirling engine [wikipedia.org] .

More quality editing from Slashdot...

!Sterling but Stirling (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093753)

Stirling from the name of inventor - Dr. Robert Stirling.

That's only 20 Amps at 115V (3, Interesting)

ameline (771895) | about 5 years ago | (#29093761)

That's one standard kitchen outlet in North America. You could run a coffee maker and a microwave, but not a whole lot more...

How much does it weigh in total (including shielding etc)?

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (1)

timmarhy (659436) | about 5 years ago | (#29093915)

you can do a lot with 20amps.... whats your point?

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (0, Offtopic)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 5 years ago | (#29094087)

What you talking about? Why, I've got my refrigerator, stove, microwave, radio, TV, kitchen computer, toasater, coffee maker, espresso machine, coffee grinder, a few lights and more plugged all into one . I did have to replace that breaker switch that kept blowing, but for now, I just hard-wired it in.... I can run them all at the same time. Watch!

*sniff* *sniff*

Hmmm....smells like something burning...gotta go!

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (5, Informative)

Graff (532189) | about 5 years ago | (#29094141)

Read the article. 2.3 kW is the test version, they want to scale it up to 40 kW for the base:

The recent tests examined technologies that would see a nuclear reactor coupled with a Stirling engine capable of producing 40 kilowatts of energy--enough to power a future lunar or Mars outpost.

40 kW is approximately 17 outlets that can handle 20 A at 115 V. Yeah, it's still not a ton but it's a start and you could potentially put up several of these reactors as you expand the facility. This would also add fault-tolerance to the entire system.

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (3, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#29094543)

40 kW is approximately 17 outlets that can handle 20 A at 115 V.

So, if all they ran were grow lights, that would be about 30 grow lights? I'm thinking that is not enough to grow the food for even one person during the lunar night. Assuming all you did with your electricity was grow some chow. I think one grow light's worth of plants is not enough for one persons daily food intake, and you're not going to grow a crop in rotation 30 days.

True, you've got plenty of light during the long lunar day, maybe it would be possible to do reduced light for 8 hours to 3 plants, but thats probably going to screw up the growth cycle of ... anything?

Hmm. So if you electrolyze water at a rate of 40 kW, and the average human needs about 3 Kg a day (rounded up) how many people can breathe? Of course you also need life support to freeze the CO2 out of the atmosphere, and some way to turn that CO2 into C and O2 or into plant matter.

No, I'm thinking you need well over 40 KW per person for a sustainable moon colony.

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | about 5 years ago | (#29094545)

So the question is, what do they do with the test version when they are done? That would power my house, and my neighbors.. or my house, with a conversion to all electric heat...

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094183)

I want one for my electric car. I would love to be able to drive anywhere in North/South America without refueling.

It could power my house as well when I am home. I have an efficient home and my electric bills are never over $30/month.

How much will it cost? Could it use radioactive waste/by-products from nuclear reactors as the small amount of fuel?

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (1)

pha7boy (1242512) | about 5 years ago | (#29094277)

great. so, when can i put this in my back yard?

Re:That's only 20 Amps at 115V (1)

Bat Country (829565) | about 5 years ago | (#29094321)

Then you pair it with low draw systems and a large capacitor.

That's just their test rig anyway - the model. TFA States:

The recent tests examined technologies that would see a nuclear reactor coupled with a Stirling engine capable of producing 40 kilowatts of energy--enough to power a future lunar or Mars outpost.

That oughta be enough.

Start The Reactor... (1)

iveygman (1303733) | about 5 years ago | (#29093767)

...free Mars!

Why the west is doomed (3, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | about 5 years ago | (#29093803)

All of our inhibitions about nuclear power is why we are doomed. Actually even wrote about this previously... the real danger to the west is not nuclear proliferation from atomic bombs, but from third world countries adopting nuclear mining, nuclear aircraft, nuclear ships, and nuclear spacecraft and pretty much leaving the west behind in a windmill driven green feel good stone ages.

Re:Why the west is doomed (5, Insightful)

Ant P. (974313) | about 5 years ago | (#29094221)

The real danger to the west is the overwhelming number of complete fucking idiots it breeds that demand that all technological progress is halted "for teh children!1".

They're a danger to the rest of the world too.

Re:Why the west is doomed (2, Funny)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 years ago | (#29094569)

They're a danger to the rest of the world too.

Yeah, but in the rest of the world they're given a nice hot mug of STFU.

Re:Why the west is doomed (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#29094323)

I wouldn't worry about it quite yet, the U.S. Navy still probably has more operational experience with nuclear ships than the entire third world combined.

I'm using 'probably' in a sarcastic manner there.

typo in summary (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093805)

Not a "sterling" engine...

Stirling engine is the correct term.
/pedantry

why worry? (0, Troll)

digitalsushi (137809) | about 5 years ago | (#29093867)

what's the use in worrying? half a world away, people are working on tablets to drop in your city's drinking water to kill everyone you know. just relax and hope for the best. maybe we'll learn something there on the moon. hell, i heard people still read books on the moon. must be a reason to go there.

If you're taking a reactor anyway... (5, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 5 years ago | (#29093883)

Why not re-open research into nuclear thermal rockets? They were able to get them up to 40% efficiency back in 1972, I'm would hope we can do better than that now. Use the reactor to heat a propellant to get you to the moon, then use the reactor on the moon to power the base. If it's time to head home, you only need to ship a relatively stable propellant up, rather than actual rocket fuel.

Small fission reactor? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 5 years ago | (#29093939)

Maybe NASA should invest a bit more down here in Earth, buying to the mad Dr. Browm a bunch of old Deloreans to see if somewhat can get a small (Mr.) Fussion reactor. Or wait just 6 years,

Easy disposal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093941)

In the low gravity there you could literally chuck the waste off of the planet with a catapult or something toward the sun (assuming you weren't just amassing some kind of stockpile...).

Its something we've wanted do on earth in the past but with rockets it seems too dangerous a risk to the populace. The moon would not have the same limitations (or atmosphere for that matter).

We already sent nuclear power to the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29093979)

They used Plutonium 238 and thermoelectrics to generate power on the Apollo missions. It's neat that they're building a "real" nuclear reactor, but this isn't the first time we've sent the stuff into space.

Electrical Power for VASIMR engines (5, Insightful)

mykepredko (40154) | about 5 years ago | (#29093993)

When I first saw this, I thought it was for powering VASIMR [adastrarocket.com] plasma engines.

Recently, AW&ST had an article suggesting that transit times between Mars and Earth 30 days could be possible using a continuously running VASIMR engine (it has an insanely high specific impulse). BUT, it would require a nuclear power source because the amount of solar panels (especially outside of earth's orbit) woudl be impractical.

myke

Hyperion energy (1)

fadethepolice (689344) | about 5 years ago | (#29094127)

These guys have one ready now, no fission needed. http://hyperionpowergeneration.com/ [hyperionpo...ration.com] I have also heard that the US Military already has a heavy lift rocket that is currently in operation and is very safe. We could also modify the current rockets used to boost the shuttle into orbit to take lunar module up. BUT NO!! LET'S START FROM SCRATCH, BREAK THE BUDGET RE-DESIGNING THE WHEEL AND TAKE TWENTY FIVE YEARS TO GET THERE INSTEAD OF THE TEN IT TOOK US IN THE 60'S

Screw the moon (0, Redundant)

R2.0 (532027) | about 5 years ago | (#29094129)

Why can't I have one of these in my back yard?

Is 2.3 kW a typo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094169)

I have a 4 kW PV array on my roof. It is practically low tech at this point. The array isn't even very big and performs well despite the fact that I live at the 48th parallel in a part of the world not known for brilliant sunshine.

Yes, I realize that unless your base is at a pole, you'll have an added expense to store energy, but batteries, inverters, etc, are low tech too. Standalone PV systems are well debugged and manageable by an interested homeowner. It should be a piece of cake for astronauts to maintain one.

If it were a 2.3 megawatt reactor, then I'd say "go for it," but a couple of kilowatts seem awfully wimpy. Perhaps it's really meant as a backup?

Why not expoit temperature (3, Interesting)

kawabago (551139) | about 5 years ago | (#29094211)

Why isn't NASA looking into technology to exploit the temperature difference between lit and shaded areas on the moon to generate electricity? That should be an excellent source of power most of the time.

And just what's wrong with... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094283)

Wind Power?

WHere do they put the heat? (2, Insightful)

wonkavader (605434) | about 5 years ago | (#29094287)

Ok, great, they put the heat in one side of the Sterling Cycle Engine, and it moves to the other side and we get motion, but what do they do with the heat? There's no air/water to bump against a cooling fin to get the activity of the molecules. Does the "icy vacuum of space" actually cool things very well?

If it did, why wouldn't a sterling cycle engine with one side in the shade and one side in the sun work pretty darn well anyhow?

I suspect that it DOESN'T, in which case they'll need to bore a big hole to put the heat in via fluid transferring to lunar dirt.

From the article: 1080 Square feet of cooling (2, Informative)

wonkavader (605434) | about 5 years ago | (#29094613)

Ah, the articles says they'll have 1080 square feet of cooling. I'm not sure whether that says the vacuum stinks at cooling or not.

How much would be needed in air?

Space 1999! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29094289)

So suppose we start using lots of these on the moon. Then we start burying the waste (and perhaps shipping up lots more from the earth). Through improper (too close together) spacing of the reactors, a chain reaction starts. That, triggers the ignition of the Helium-3 that's been deposited by the solar wind for the last 4-1/2 billion years, and blows the moon out of orbit!

Anyway, that's the only way I could figure that the moon, a mass of 7.347 x 10^22 KG, could get blown out of orbit. All the nuclear weapons on earth couldn't budge it, but maybe the lunar deposits of helium-3 could do it! Perhaps that's what also happened in the (remake) of the Time Machine, they mention a 20MT explosion on the moon would be used in preparation for a lunar colony. Next scene: they've spectacularly fractured it, raining debris all over the earth and making the world fit only for the Eloi and Morlocks. No way a 20MT explosion could fracture the Moon, it can barely vaporize an island!

Yawn. (4, Insightful)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | about 5 years ago | (#29094327)

Wake me when I can buy me a Ford Nucleon [wikipedia.org] . 5000 miles on a single fueling. Take that, Tesla Motors!

What's the point (1, Funny)

stms (1132653) | about 5 years ago | (#29094427)

Of testing a nuclear reactor for the moon if we haven't even been there yet?

There is only TWO issues (1, Interesting)

cbraescu1 (180267) | about 5 years ago | (#29094433)

With such endeavors there is the internal opinion issue: in case of a failed take-off (think Challenger or Columbia) what happens with the nuclear reactor? NASA will have to prove even in such situation the reactor is going to be 100% safe.

If the American public will accept the safety assurances of NASA, then the Russians and the Chinese are going to raise HELL about the idea of having nuclear energy in space. No, it's not about atomic bombs - but nuclear reactors can easily be used as energy sources for powerful lasers.

NASA might be able to persuade the American public, but will never persuade the Russians and the Chinese about somethign that indirectly can obliterate their satelites and misiles.

hope its (1)

barry_allen (1467825) | about 5 years ago | (#29094533)

a cold fusion reactor and layered with a aluminum oxynitride dome for meteroites. anyways nuclear power is an insult to nature. nuclear chemical reactions occur in space. not in PLANETS. they're many ways of producing and harnessing power with out going nuclear.

At last! (2, Insightful)

mach1980 (1114097) | about 5 years ago | (#29094575)

The 50's promise of a reactor in your basement to power those nifty gadgets are finally here!

I'm going to celebrate with some burgers in non-degradable styrofoam containers while driving my three ton car (with wings!) down a twenty lane highway.

Thank you Gernsback! *shudder*

Remember the challenger? (1)

khrath (782494) | about 5 years ago | (#29094585)

That wasn't supposed to blow up inside earths atmosphere, but it did. Wouldn't that explosion have been even more fun if it had a nuclear reactor on board? I don't like the idea of my kids playing outside being showered with radioactive isotopes from a mini nuclear reactor.
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