Start Date

5-2020 12:00 AM

Description

This study is aimed at exploring the adaptation of commercial nuclear reactors as an alternative to NASA’s current high-power fission reactor systems, particularly with respect to applications on the surface of Mars. The study concludes that while the Kilopower architecture is brilliantly poised to provide affordable, near-term power in the 1-10 kilowatts electric (kWe) range, the financial barrier to higher power scaling of such systems is significant. This financial barrier adds risk to the development of greater than 10kWe systems and is likely to result in the failure to successfully scale the technology to higher powers for space exploration applications. To investigate the feasibility of commercial reactor adaptation, the study first explores which general reactor concepts would be the most likely to succeed in space applications. The study’s analysis of current reactor concepts concludes that solid core reactors scored the best, although molten salt reactors also show potential for applications in space. A case study of AlphaTech’s ARC Reactor concept demonstrates that a commercial reactor concept has potential to be adapted for NASA’s purposes without sacrificing primary requirements for reliability, safety, and power density. Preliminary specific power estimates of the reactor concept demonstrate potential to bring energy orders of magnitude greater than the Kilopower concept to space exploration while also mitigating financial barriers. This study concludes that commercial reactor development merits further investigation as an alternative to NASA’s development for reactors greater than 10kWe.

Comments

Due to COVID-19, the Symposium was not able to be held this year. However, papers and posters were still submitted.

Available for download on Saturday, May 01, 2021

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May 1st, 12:00 AM

Leveraging Commercial Nuclear Reactors to Power Space Exploration

This study is aimed at exploring the adaptation of commercial nuclear reactors as an alternative to NASA’s current high-power fission reactor systems, particularly with respect to applications on the surface of Mars. The study concludes that while the Kilopower architecture is brilliantly poised to provide affordable, near-term power in the 1-10 kilowatts electric (kWe) range, the financial barrier to higher power scaling of such systems is significant. This financial barrier adds risk to the development of greater than 10kWe systems and is likely to result in the failure to successfully scale the technology to higher powers for space exploration applications. To investigate the feasibility of commercial reactor adaptation, the study first explores which general reactor concepts would be the most likely to succeed in space applications. The study’s analysis of current reactor concepts concludes that solid core reactors scored the best, although molten salt reactors also show potential for applications in space. A case study of AlphaTech’s ARC Reactor concept demonstrates that a commercial reactor concept has potential to be adapted for NASA’s purposes without sacrificing primary requirements for reliability, safety, and power density. Preliminary specific power estimates of the reactor concept demonstrate potential to bring energy orders of magnitude greater than the Kilopower concept to space exploration while also mitigating financial barriers. This study concludes that commercial reactor development merits further investigation as an alternative to NASA’s development for reactors greater than 10kWe.