Many folks would like to see us back on the Moon and developing its resources.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NASA Glenn Research Center leads effort to design tiny nuclear plant for moon outpost

A few snippets from a long article that is quite informative.
- LRK -

Cleveland's NASA Glenn Research Center leads effort to design tiny
nuclear plant for moon outpost
By John Mangels, The Plain Dealer
October 10, 2009, 9:00PM

There are no electrical outlets on the moon. No power cables either, no transmission towers, no grid, no generating plants.

Engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are leading work on a possible solution: an ultra-compact nuclear power plant that can run for eight years or longer without maintenance, and can make more than enough electricity to meet the daily needs of the average
American house.

The whole rig could fold up to fit in a tractor-trailer with room to spare. The heart of the system is a reactor no bigger than an office trash bin.

The lunar outpost's design is still evolving, and NASA's overall human space exploration program is in flux as the White House and Congress wrestle with the cost of building new spacecraft to send astronauts to the moon and Mars.

Here's the Glenn-led team's basic plan: The small reactor would be buried about 6 feet deep in the lunar soil and shielded with a plug made of boron carbide, a material that blocks radiation as effectively as lead but is much lighter. Splitting uranium atoms in the reactor's core would release energy in the form of heat, as much as 1,200 degrees. A couple of gallons of liquid metal – probably sodium or a sodium/potassium mix – piped around the core would transfer that heat energy to four Stirling engines mounted on a metal truss above the reactor.

The Stirling engines convert the reactor's heat into mechanical energy, driving an alternator that makes electricity. Together, the engines should put out 40 kilowatts.

Waste heat would be absorbed by coolant and pumped through a series of radiator panels that unfurl from the truss like giant bat wings. The fully extended panels would be 100 feet long, but when folded they're less than 5.

The whole system would weigh 11,000 pounds, about as much as a fully armored Humvee. NASA's Altair lunar lander conceivably could haul two at a time to the surface.

"The idea is to deliver [the nuclear power plant] in this nice, compact, stowed configuration, and once you install the reactor in the hole, you can deploy the radiators," said Mason. "You can do it
remotely from Earth, or from the habitat on the moon. It's meant to be a very simple setup."

The radiation level of the reactor's individual uranium dioxide fuel pins is low enough that they can be safely hand-held, Palac said. If the rocket carrying the reactor exploded, its nuclear fuel would be dispersed, he said, and the remnants, although they would require cleanup, would not exceed normal background radiation levels.

Palac said he hopes people will react to the project like his wife's aunt, a member of several environmental groups. He'd been worried about her response to his research, and described it obliquely as developing fission surface power for the moon..

"She said, 'Oh, you mean nuclear,'" Palac recalled. "She said, 'You know, nuclear power has tremendous potential to be a solution to our global energy crisis, and how wonderful you're taking it to outer space, where I'm sure it's even more useful.' I was blown away by that."


Now if we can just get our act together and get back to the Moon while I am still around to see it happen, I would be most pleased. :-)

Thanks for looking up with me.

Larry Kellogg

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Multi-Megawatt Gas Turbine Power Systems for Lunar Colonies

NASA/TM-2006-214658; AIAA-2006-4117

Prepared for the Fourth International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference and Exhibit (IECEC) sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, San Diego, California, June 26-29, 2006. Responsible person, Albert J. Juhasz, organization code RPT,

A concept for development of second generation 10 MWe prototype lunar power plant utilizing a gas cooled fission reactor supplying heated helium working fluid to two parallel 5 MWe closed cycle gas turbines is presented. Such a power system is expected to supply the energy needs for an initial lunar colony with a crew of up to 50 persons engaged in mining and manufacturing activities. System performance and mass details were generated by an author developed code (BRMAPS). The proposed pilot power plant can be a model for future plants of the
same capacity that could be tied to an evolutionary lunar power grid.

Space nuclear power; Lunar power; Nuclear power plants

2006/TM-2006-214658.pdf ( 1043 KB )

NASA Steps Closer to Nuclear Power for Moon Base
By Tariq Malik Managing Editor
posted: 06 August 2009 - 06:37 pm ET

NASA has made a series of critical strides in developing new nuclear reactors the size of a trash can that could power a human outpost on the moon or Mars.

Three recent tests at different NASA centers and a national lab have successfully demonstrated key technologies required for compact fission-based nuclear power plants for human settlements on other worlds.

"This recent string of technology development successes confirms that the fission surface power project is on the right path," said Don Palac, NASA's fission surface power project manager at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, in a statement.

Power on the moon

NASA's current plan for human space exploration is to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 on sortie missions that could lead to a permanent outpost for exploring the lunar surface and testing technologies that could aid a manned mission to Mars.

The space agency has been studying the feasibility of using nuclear fission power plants to support future moon bases. Engineers performed tests in recent weeks as part of a joint effort by NASA and the Department of Energy.

Wake up and smell the coffee -- on the Moon!

May 15, 2009: Have you ever wondered how you'd make your morning cup of java if you lived on another planet, or perhaps the moon? That steaming beverage would be a must on a cold lunar morning.

But with rare sunlight, no coal or wood to burn, and no flowing water for hydro-electrical power, how would you make that cup of coffee, much less cook breakfast, heat your abode, and power the life support equipment and tools you needed to live and work up there?

NASA, planning for a future lunar outpost, has been asking those same questions lately.

There's more than one way to generate power on the moon. Fission Surface Power is one of the options NASA is considering. If this method is chosen, an engine invented in the early 1800s by Scottish brothers Robert and James Stirling could help make it work.




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