August 31, 2011
Nuclear Power For Moon And Mars Bases

A reactor for the equivalent of 8 Earth-bound homes would be the size of a carry-on suitcase.

The first nuclear power plant being considered for production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets may really look like it came from outer space, according to a leader of the project who spoke here today at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

James E. Werner said that innovative fission technology for surface power applications is far different from the familiar terrestrial nuclear power stations, which sprawl over huge tracts of land and have large structures such as cooling towers.

"People would never recognize the fission power system as a nuclear power reactor," said Werner. "The reactor itself may be about 1 feet wide by 2 feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There are no cooling towers. A fission power system is a compact, reliable, safe system that may be critical to the establishment of outposts or habitats on other planets. Fission power technology can be applied on Earth's Moon, on Mars, or wherever NASA sees the need for continuous power."

While the Mars rotation period is almost the same as Earth the Moon's rotation is about 27.32 days. Hard to make solar power work when you have to store 2 weeks of electricity. Harder still if operating in a crater that gets sunshine for an even shorter period of time.

Getting enough mass to Mars for solar panels and batteries would be far more expensive than moving nuclear power plants to Mars. So a Mars base would almost certainly be nuclear powered. But to break free from dependency on uranium from Earth would require development of solar and perhaps biomass energy sources. Geothermal and wind are not options on Mars or the Moon.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 August 31 07:08 AM  Space Colonization


Comments
Paul said at August 31, 2011 7:37 AM:

Power can be beamed to the lunar nearside from the Earth, using lasers.

Paul said at August 31, 2011 7:40 AM:

But to break free from dependency on uranium from Earth

Highly enriched uranium has such high energy density that this is a rather silly goal. The mass of uranium saved would be much less than the mass of equipment needed to replace it. Uranium will be one of the last materials space activities will stop importing from Earth.

jim moore said at August 31, 2011 1:06 PM:

For the moon, I think that concentrated solar power is the way to go. You have full sun (1 kw per square meter) for 14 days straight. You get a very high temperature that can be directly used to process the lunar material. A CSP system uses simple parts that can be made on the moon.

For the long night (~14 days long) you have a very cold heat sink (night time surface temp -154 C)that can be used in a heat engine. The hot aluminum and silicon that was processed during the day can be your heat source.

Paul said at August 31, 2011 4:40 PM:

Jim: so how exactly do you propose to transfer heat to this heat sink?

Tim said at August 31, 2011 5:17 PM:

I believe that the most current schemes for lunar bases involve locations at the lunar poles especially the Southern one. Not only because of the water believed strongly to be there in permanently shadowed craters, but that Polar Regions are in an area of almost continuous sunlight: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_the_Moon#Polar_regions
Accept for rare occurrences when the earth eclipses the sun. But still more power can't hurt, especially when you start getting into more energy intensive practices like melting ice to water and then electrolyses to Hydrogen and Oxygen.

Lobo Solo said at September 1, 2011 9:52 AM:

The Moon has plenty of thorium Here' a good video that mentions powering a moon settlement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2vzotsvvkw.

Tim McD said at September 1, 2011 10:52 AM:

The moon seems to be ideal for orbiting solar stations. No atmosphere would seem to me to indicate you would not even need to transform the sunlight to microwaves for beaming down, just large mirrors in geostationary (or maybe it should be lunostationary) orbit angled to reflect sunlight onto collectors on the surface. Am I missing something?

JeffC said at September 1, 2011 11:07 AM:

so from the comments I see alot of ideas for "solar" power on the Moon ... Excuse me but what sort of fantasy world are you folks coming from ? in a choice between a 6-9 cubic foot power plant vs billions of dollars and thousands of pounds of delicate complex mirrors, panels and batteries you really have to have a religious like faith in solar to think it could work ...

nuke power works, is well understood, is fairly cheap and most important for any space mission IS SIMPLE ...

in this case solar power is not science, its science fiction ...

Hockey Bum said at September 1, 2011 11:26 AM:

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned wind or tidal power on the moon. They're about as realistic as beaming power to the moon via lasers or massive solar collection and energy storage. Seriously, what is it about nuclear power that causes people to dream of magical alternatives?

bill21 said at September 1, 2011 11:54 AM:

..."what is it about nuclear power that causes people to dream of magical alternatives?"

ignorance.

submandave said at September 1, 2011 12:25 PM:

They will have to be careful about choosing materials, though, as ERB has demonstrated that Radium becomes explosive when exposed to Mars' atmosphere.

Joseph Somsel said at September 1, 2011 3:57 PM:

..."what is it about nuclear power that causes people to dream of magical alternatives?"

Wishful thinking is my answer but that almost presumes ignorance, deliberate or otherwise.

SenatorMark4 said at September 1, 2011 8:03 PM:

..and so when can I install this on my boat so I can cruise the world non-stop?

anonyq said at September 2, 2011 6:34 PM:

6-9 cubic foot without mentioning its weight is a bit useless as weight is the main cost of moving stuff from Earth to the Moon. Transporting a nuclear power plant also means using a much more reliable rocket which costs more per pound

Paul said at September 4, 2011 4:15 PM:

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned wind or tidal power on the moon. They're about as realistic as beaming power to the moon via lasers

You have no idea what you are talking about, do you? Exactly what is the showstopper for power beaming?

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