Scientists develop Nuclear-powered engine for Space exploration and demonstrated a new concept for a reliable nuclear reactor that could be used on space flights. A proposed spaceship to Jupiter that uses the small nuclear engine proposed at NASA and Los Alamos. Image credit: NASA /Los Alamos National Laboratory
The research team recently demonstrated a Nuclear-powered engine to produce electricity in the United States since 1965, and an experiment demonstrated the first use of a heat pipe to cool a and then harvest the heat to power a Stirling engine at the Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility confirms basic nuclear reactor physics and heat transfer for a simple, reliable space power system.
Heat pipe technology was invented at Los Alamos in 1963. A heat pipe is a sealed tube with an internal fluid that can efficiently transfer heat produced by a reactor with no moving parts. A Stirling engine is a relatively simple closed-loop engine that converts heat energy into electrical power using a pressurized gas to move a piston. Using the two devices in tandem allowed for creation of a simple, reliable electric power supply that can be adapted for space applications.
Researchers configured DUFF on an existing experiment, known as Flattop, to allow for a water-based heat pipe to extract heat from uranium. Heat from the fission reaction was transferred to a pair of free-piston Stirling engines manufactured by Sunpower Inc., based in Athens Ohio. Engineers from NASA Glenn designed and built the heat pipe and Stirling assembly and operated the engines during the experiment. Los Alamos nuclear engineers operated the Flattop assembly under authorization from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
source Los Alamos National Laboratory