Humans might not be living on Mars or the moon anytime soon, but scientists might have just overcome one major hurdle on the route to interplanetary habitation: electricity.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory have designed a suitcase-sized nuclear plant
that can power up to eight normal-sized homes. Thanks to its size and durability, the plant can provide fission power not only on Earth, but on the moon, on Mars, or any other place NASA requires a power generator.
While most nuclear power plants
generate hundreds or thousands of megawatts of electricity, this portable generator would create only 40 kilowatts. This smaller size is ideal for the type of conditions seen in space, said James Werner, lead researcher on the project.
"Just taking it down to that size has a lot of significant differences," Werner told InnovationNewsDaily.
The generator is more flexible and can be placed in craters or caves on uninhabited planets, for example. It is also exponentially less heavy than standard nuclear power plants, which Werner said is essential for a generator to work properly in space.
NASA has envisioned several potential applications for the new power plants. They could power oxygen or hydrogen generators. They could also serve as charging devices for either manned or unmanned electric scouting vehicles.