Nuclear reactor space travel, NASA news: Heat pipe, Stirling engine could power future space flights

For potential power sources on space flights beyond the horizon, scientists are looking back to the future.

A team of NASA and Department of Energy researchers has shown that a reliable nuclear reactor based on technology that's been around for decades could be used in spaceships, according to a news release from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where some of the researchers are based.

The news release says the team used "heat pipe technology," which was invented at Los Alamos in 1963, and uses a heat pipe to cool a small nuclear reactor and power a Stirling engine, producing 24 watts of electricity.

The experiment known as the Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions, or DUFF, is the first demonstration of a space nuclear reactor system to produce electricity in the United States since 1965, and the experiment confirms basic nuclear reactor physics and heat transfer for a simple, reliable space power system.

A heat pipe is a sealed tube with fluid inside that can efficiently transfer heat produced by a reactor with no moving parts. According to a video on Los Alamos' YouTube channel, over the past 50 years, heat pipes have "gone mainstream" and now are used in everything from electronics to the Alaska pipeline.

Stirling engines, which the Los Alamos video says were initially developed in the 19th century, are relatively simple, closed-loop engines that convert heat energy into electrical power using a pressurized gas to move a piston.

Using the two devices in tandem allowed for creation of a simple, reliable electric power supply that can be adapted for space applications, the release said.

"The heat pipe and Stirling engine used in this test are meant to represent one module that could be used in a space system," said Marc Gibson of NASA Glenn Research Center. "A flight system might use several modules to produce approximately 1 kilowatt of electricity."

In the video, Los Alamos says the primary benefits of this nuclear technology are its simplicity, and its reliance on resources the United States has "in abundance."

In addition, the scientists say because the reactor wouldn't function until it was in space, accidents on the ground or during launch would have minimal impact.

"A small, simple, lightweight fission power system could lead to a new and enhanced capability for space science and exploration," said Los Alamos project lead Patrick McClure. "We hope that this proof of concept will soon move us from the old frontier of Nevada to the new frontier of outer space."


Comments

Read More

Ashley Taylor Wright threw her baby at a deputy at Pensacola Dillards, Okaloosa County police say Ashley Taylor Wright threw her baby at a deputy at Pensacola Dillards, Okaloosa County police say

A Pensacola woman, Ashley Taylor Wright, has been arrested after authorities say they tried arrest her for shoplifting and she threw the baby at a deputy as she tried to escape.

Stephen Amaral robbed while naked swimming woman distracts him Stephen Amaral robbed while naked swimming woman distracts him

A Tennessee man found this out the hard way when a woman dipped in his pool, naked, as her husband robbed his home.

Giant purple chicken stolen in Putnam County, three men charged with grand theft Giant purple chicken stolen in Putnam County, three men charged with grand theft

Putnam County investigators say it was "fowl" play when three young men stole a giant chicken.

Invisible man in Fort Pierce prefers his stolen cigarettes mentholated Invisible man in Fort Pierce prefers his stolen cigarettes mentholated

A man in Fort Pierce said he used his "powers of invisibility" to abscond with a carton of menthol cigarettes, but his conscience appears to have gotten the best of him.

David John Sirko: Suspected burglar left love notes, photos of underwear on head, deputies say David John Sirko: Suspected burglar left love notes, photos of underwear on head, deputies say

A Golden Gate Estates, Florida man was arrested Monday after Collier County sheriff's deputies say he broke into a woman's house, left her love notes and took photos of himself with her underwear on his head.

Randy Zipperer mac and cheese dispute: Florida man accused of stabbing brother after food disapears Randy Zipperer mac and cheese dispute: Florida man accused of stabbing brother after food disapears

Authorities say two Florida brothers got into a tussle over missing macaroni and cheese that ended with one stabbing the other in the stomach.

Walmart wedding: Wayne and Susan Brandenburg get married at Shallotte, North Carolina store Walmart wedding: Wayne and Susan Brandenburg get married at Shallotte, North Carolina store

For years, Wayne Brandenburg shopped at his local Wal-Mart three or four times a week. He never thought he'd pick up a wife, or marry her, there. But that's exactly what happened.

Man jumps on manatees video: YouTube, Facebook video posting investigated by wildlife officials Man jumps on manatees video: YouTube, Facebook video posting investigated by wildlife officials

Video of a man jumping on two manatees prompts legal investigation.

Filomena Tobias flips off Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls player, paper reports Filomena Tobias flips off Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls player, paper reports

The woman has been identified as Filomena Tobias, widow of CNBC commentator Seth Tobias, of Jupiter.

Etta Lopez accused of slapping deputy to help her quit smoking; charged with assualting an officer Etta Lopez accused of slapping deputy to help her quit smoking; charged with assualting an officer

California woman slaps sheriff's deputy to quit smoking