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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-05-02 11:15:00
  • Article ID: 693874

'Game Changing' Space-Mission Power System Passes Tests with Flying Colors

  • Fully assembled KRUSTY core at the Device Assembly Facility (DAF) at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

  • NASA & National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the KRUSTY system at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).


Furhana Afrid

‘Game changing’ space-mission power system passes tests with flying colors

KRUSTY experiment demonstrates fission power’s promise for lunar, planetary exploration


Los Alamos, NM, May 2, 2018 — A new nuclear power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond recently passed an extensive operating test in the Nevada desert, performing well under a variety of challenging conditions. 

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal[BA(1]  operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said David Poston of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the chief reactor designer. 

The recent experiment in Nevada, conducted by NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), demonstrated the system can create electricity with fission power and showed the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters. 

The agency announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment, during a news conference today at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experiment was conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.  

“Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.” 

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power - enough to run several average households - continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost. A video explains how kilopower works.   

According to Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn, the pioneering power system is ideal for the Moon, where power generation from sunlight is difficult because lunar nights are equivalent to 14 days on Earth. 

“Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Gibson. “When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that’s going to require a new class of power that we’ve never needed before.” 

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.  

The Kilopower team conducted the experiment in four phases. The first two phases, conducted without power, confirmed that each component of the system behaved as expected. During the third phase, the team increased power to heat the core incrementally before moving on to the final phase. The experiment culminated with a 28-hour, full-power test that simulated a mission, including reactor startup, ramp to full power, steady operation and shutdown. 

Throughout the experiment, the team simulated power reduction, failed engines and failed heat pipes, showing that the system could continue to operate and successfully handle multiple failures. 

The Kilopower project is developing mission concepts and performing additional risk reduction activities to prepare for a possible future flight demonstration. The project will remain a part of the STMD’s Game Changing Development program with the goal of transitioning to the Technology Demonstration Mission program in Fiscal Year 2020.   

Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, including missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilization to produce local propellants and other materials. 

The Kilopower project is led by Glenn, in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NNSA, including its Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site and Y-12 National Security Complex. 

About Los Alamos National Laboratory (

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, BWXT Government Group and URS, an AECOM company, for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health and global security concerns.

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No Longer Whistling in the Dark: Scientists Uncover a Little-Understood Source of Waves Generated Throughout the Universe

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and other laboratories, using data from a NASA four-satellite mission that is studying reconnection, have developed a method for identifying the source of waves that help satellites determine their location in space.

New biofuel production system powered by a community of algae and fungi

MSU scientists have a new proof of concept for a biofuel production platform that uses two species of marine algae and soil fungi. It lowers cultivation and harvesting costs and increases productivity, factors that currently hold back biofuels from being widely adopted.

Multimodal Imaging Shows Strain Can Drive Chemistry in a Photovoltaic Material

A unique combination of imaging tools and atomic-level simulations has allowed a team led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to solve a longstanding debate about the properties of a promising material that can harvest energy from light.

Study of tiny vortices could lead to new self-healing materials, other advances

Argonne scientists hope that tiny vortices, driven by various magnetic fields, will be able to move microscopic particles.

How a Molecular Signal Helps Plant Cells Decide When to Make Oil

Scientists identify new details of how a sugar-signaling molecule helps regulate oil production in plant cells. The work could point to new ways to engineer plants to produce substantial amounts of oil for use as biofuels or in the production of other oil-based products.

Neutrons Produce First Direct 3D Maps of Water During Cell Membrane Fusion

New 3D maps of water distribution during cellular membrane fusion could lead to new treatments for diseases associated with cell fusion. Using neutron diffraction at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists made the first direct observations of water in lipid bilayers modeling cell membrane fusion.

Chemists Demonstrate Sustainable Approach to Carbon Dioxide Capture From Air

Chemists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a practical, energy-efficient method of capturing carbon dioxide directly from air. If deployed at large scale and coupled to geologic storage, the technique may bolster the portfolio of responses to global climate change.

Nucleation a boon to sustainable nanomanufacturing

Young-Shin Jun, professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and Quingun Li, a former doctoral student in her lab, are the first to measure the activation energy and kinetic factors of calcium carbonate's nucleation, both key to predicting and controlling the process.

Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Argonne scientists and their collaborators have developed a new model that merges basic electrochemical theory with theories used in different contexts, such as the study of photoelectrochemistry and semiconductor physics, to describe phenomena that occur in any electrode.

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Department of Energy Announces $218 Million for Quantum Information Science

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $218 million in funding for 85 research awards in the important emerging field of Quantum Information Science (QIS).

Energy Secretary awards researchers for global threat reduction

Seven employees from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory were among those presented with a Secretary of Energy Achievement Award at the Secretary's Honors Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on August 29.

University of Minnesota to lead $5.3 million federal grant to improve electronic circuit design

The University of Minnesota announced today that it has received a four-year, $5.3 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, to lead an effort that could spark the next wave of U.S. semiconductor innovation and broaden the competitive field for circuit design.

Berkeley Lab to Build an Advanced Quantum Computing Testbed

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will receive $30 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy to build and operate an Advanced Quantum Testbed (AQT) allowing researchers to explore superconducting quantum processors to advance scientific research

Cheng wins Midwest Energy News' 40 Under 40 Award

Lei Cheng, an assistant chemist in the Materials Science division at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, has received a Midwest Energy News 40 Under 40 Award.

JCESR renewed for another five years

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced its decision to renew the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub led by Argonne National Laboratory and focused on advancing battery science and technology.

Binghamton designated as NextFlex New York Node for flexible hybrid electronics initiative

NextFlex has designated Binghamton University to be the New York "Node" for its flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) initiative. As the NextFlex New York Node, Binghamton will design, develop and manufacture tools; process materials and products for flexible hybrid electronics; and attract, train and employ an advanced manufacturing workforce, building on the region's existing electronics manufacturing base.

First Particle Tracks Seen in Prototype for International Neutrino Experiment

The largest liquid-argon neutrino detector in the world has just recorded its first particle tracks, signaling the start of a new chapter in the story of the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). DUNE's scientific mission is dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of neutrinos, the most abundant (and most mysterious) matter particles in the universe.

Tais Gorkhover Wins LCLS Young Investigator Award for Pioneering Novel X-ray Imaging Methods

Tais Gorkhover, a principal investigator with the Stanford PULSE Institute, will receive the 2018 LCLS Young Investigator Award, granted to early-career scientists in recognition of exceptional research using the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

ORNL, United Kingdom Lab Partner on Nuclear Energy Research

The United Kingdom's National Nuclear Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have agreed to cooperate on a wide range of nuclear energy research and development efforts that leverage both organizations' unique expertise and capabilities.

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Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

Seeing Between the Atoms

New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.

New Electron Glasses Sharpen Our View of Atomic-Scale Features

A new approach to atom probe tomography promises more precise and accurate measurements vital to semiconductors used in computers, lasers, detectors, and more.

Getting an Up-Close, 3-D View of Gold Nanostars

Scientists can now measure 3-D structures of tiny particles with properties that hold promise for advanced sensors and diagnostics.

Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Matter

Particle flow patterns suggest even small-scale collisions create drops of early universe quark-gluon plasma.

Tuning Terahertz Beams with Nanoparticles

Scientists uncover a way to control terahertz radiation using tiny engineered particles in a magnetic field, potentially opening the doors for better medical and environmental sensors.


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