Being able to generate power will be essential for long-term space travel. Powering a stay on Mars, for example, will require a lot of fuel, way more than we can pack onto a rocket. That’s why NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Department of Energy and a number of other groups have been working on a small, transportable nuclear reactor that can reliably generate power on the go. The reactor they’re developing is called Kilopower and earlier this year, they announced that they had conducted successful tests of the system. In March, the team ran the first full-power tests and during a press conference today, they reported that those tests went extremely well.
Lower power Kilopower systems, like the one kilowatt version, can power a basic toaster, while the largest version, a 10 kilowatt model, can do a bit more. Four or five of the latter could be used to power a habitat on Mars and importantly, they don’t rely on the sun, meaning they can be used on planets with less sunlight than ours, in shadowed regions and during light-blocking dust storms. “Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power,” NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in January.
It’s certainly not Iron Man’s Arc reactor, but this is still pretty cool!
This discovery is not only fascinating, and incredibly breathtaking, but it also breaks a few records. With this being the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star, and the three planets in the habitable zone are also the highest number found around the single star outside of our solar system.
The system, named TRAPPIST-1 after The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, is about 40 light-years from Earth, but this is actually relatively close.
It will now be up to further observations to determine whether they contain liquid water, and also what their atmosphere is made up of.
I’m really excited to see what discoveries can be made in TRAPPIST-1, and maybe one of these will have the necessary ingredients needed for life to exist!