DOE, NASA Testing Fission Reactor for Spaceflight
Researchers from NASA and the Department of Energy have demonstrated a nuclear reactor that could power spaceflight. It’s nowhere near as powerful as NASA’s conceptual antimatter engine–the Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment produces just 24 watts of electricity.
The researchers used a heat pipe to cool a small nuclear reactor and power a Stirling engine, according to the lab, yielding “a simple, reliable space power system.” It was the first space nuclear reactor experiment in the U.S. since 1965. A proposed craft using the system would be powered by a 50-pound hunk of enriched uranium that sits inside a 12-inch reactor core. Having more power aboard a probe could mean more instruments or faster data transmission.