Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Los Alamos leading fast-paced reactor research to power planned journey to Jupiter’s icy moons

12.02.2004


A proposed U.S. mission to investigate three ice-covered moons of Jupiter will demand fast-paced research, fabrication and realistic non-nuclear testing of a prototype nuclear reactor within two years, says a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist.



The roots of this build and test effort have been under way at Los Alamos since the mid-1990s, said David Poston, leader of the Space Fission Power Team in Los Alamos’ Nuclear Design and Risk Analysis Group.

NASA proposes using use electrical ion propulsion powered by a nuclear reactor for its Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, an element of Project Prometheus, which is scheduled for launch after 2011. However, the United States hasn’t flown a space fission system since 1965.


Poston discussed technical requirements for such a fission reactor in two presentations Monday at the Space Technology and Applications International Forum in Albuquerque. Los Alamos is a co-sponsor of the forum. Poston discussed "The Impact of Core Cooling Technology Options on JIMO Reactor Designs" and "The Impact of Power and Lifetime Requirements on JIMO Reactor Designs."

Los Alamos is leading reactor design for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter mission, which would orbit Callisto, Ganymede and Europa to study their makeup, possible vast oceans beneath the ice, their history and potential for sustaining life. Los Alamos is responsible for such key reactor technologies as nuclear fuel, beryllium components, heat pipes and diagnostic instruments, as well as nuclear criticality testing of development and flight reactors.

"Nuclear power has long been recognized as an enabling technology for exploring and expanding into space, and fission reactors offer unprecedented power and propulsion capabilities," Poston said.

The JIMO mission would demand a safe, low-mass, high-temperature reactor that can be developed and qualified quickly, can operate reliably in the harsh environment of space for more than a decade, and can meet a wide range of mission and spacecraft requirements, he said.

A science mission to explore the icy Jovian moons would require kilowatts of electrical power for the scientific payloads and up to 100 kilowatts of electricity for ion propulsion to propel the spacecraft to Jupiter, maneuver within the Jovian system and allow rendezvous with the moons. The reactor also would power advanced science experiments and systems to send data to Earth at high rates.

Despite the lack of U.S. space reactor research in recent decades, Los Alamos has continued to examine technologies and concepts for a rapid and affordable development program. Working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Los Alamos has resolved many hardware issues at the component and system level.

Los Alamos and NASA-Marshall researchers, working with colleagues from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, have built successively more powerful nuclear electric propulsion reactor components, including a 30-kilowatt reactor core without fuel, one-third of a 100-kilowatt system (core plus heat exchanger) and a single module suitable for a 500-kilowatt reactor core. Extensive non-nuclear testing of these and other components continues.

Most researchers have agreed on the best fuels and reactor construction materials for the proposed fast-spectrum, externally controlled JIMO reactor. The major design choice that remains is how best to transport power from the reactor core to the power conversion system.

Los Alamos and NASA are examining three primary options for core cooling: pumped liquid-metal sodium or lithium; sodium or lithium liquid metal heat pipes; and inert helium or helium-xenon gas. Many of these options have been tested for decades for terrestrial reactors, but the reactor for JIMO would be unique, Poston said.

"We believe the power and lifetime potential of space fission reactors could easily accommodate the requirements of future NASA missions," Poston said. "However, it is clear that reactor performance and technical risks are tightly coupled to power and lifetime requirements, so we must thoroughly understand these technical risks before developing the first system. For example, there are fewer technical and development challenges for a 500-kilowatt-thermal reactor than a 1,000-kilowatt-thermal reactor.

"The first step needs to be small enough to ensure success and to put into place the experience, expertise and infrastructure necessary for more advanced systems," Poston concluded. "After that, we can move on to the systems needed for even more ambitious space exploration, such as multi-megawatt nuclear electric propulsion or nuclear thermal rockets. Our near-term efforts must be focused on making the first mission succeed."

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA’s Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos develops and applies science and technology to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism; and solve national problems in defense, energy, environment and infrastructure.

Jim Danneskiold | LANL
Further information:
http://www.lanl.gov/worldview/news/releases/archive/04-005.shtml

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Laser sensor LAH-G1 - optical distance sensors with measurement value display
15.08.2017 | WayCon Positionsmesstechnik GmbH

nachricht Engineers find better way to detect nanoparticles
14.08.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter

17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences

Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>