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Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Interplanetary mission fission

A new fission experiment demonstrates the viability of a small nuclear reactor to power solar-system-exploring spacecraft.
July 15, 2013
Interplanetary mission fission

Artist’s conception of a spacecraft (lower left) held at a safe distance from its nuclear power source.

New nuclear fission reactor small enough to reliably power future spacecraft

Scientists and engineers from Los Alamos, NASA, and National Security Technologies, LLC, have successfully performed a nuclear fission experiment called DUFF, proving the concept of uranium-fission-powered interplanetary space exploration. Providing about 5–7 times more electrical power than most spacecraft have available, a DUFF-like power system would enable spacecraft to carry more, and more power-consuming, scientific instruments. The system relies on a heat pipe—another Los Alamos invention—to carry heat away form the reactor using no moving parts and deliver it to a simple, reliable Stirling engine system, which generates electricity from the heat energy.

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