Friday, January 19, 2018

Nuclear reactors the size of wastebaskets could power our Martian settlements

Artist's illustration of the umbrella-like heat radiators of
four Kilopower nuclear reactors casting shadows
on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA  

The cylinder of uranium is the size of a coffee can. Even with its shielding and detectors, the device is still no larger than a wastepaper basket. But this little prototype, soon to be tested in the Nevada desert, fuels a dream of an off-world future for humanity.

The Kilopower project, a joint venture between NASA and the Department of Energy, is set to be the first nuclear fission reactor to reach space since the SNAP 10A project in the 1960s. A prototype is in testing, which makes it closer to launch than any of the other projects that popped up in the intervening decades.

“Your toaster uses about a kilowatt,” Pat McClure, Kilopower project lead at Los Alamos, says with a laugh. “In your average household, you use about 5 KW on average a day, at any given time. Realize, though, that this is a lot of energy for NASA. At NASA, they’re used to tens to hundreds of watts. So, to have a kilowatt or 10 kilowatts is a lot of electricity.” (Full story)
Also in

U.S. tests nuclear power system to sustain astronauts on Mars

Mars fission power system concept in the Kilopower project
Courtesy NASA

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA’s Kilopower project. (Full story)

Double-Paned Solar Windows Crank Up Efficiency

A new design for windows that can harvest solar electricity

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, led by OSA Fellow Victor Klimov, have devised a prototype large-area solar window that cleverly combines a double-paned architecture and cheap-to-manufacture quantum dots to boost solar energy collection efficiency compared with single-pane models. The key to the scheme: engineering the QDs embedded in the upper and lower panes to capture and rechannel photons from different parts of the solar spectrum—and to keep re-absorption of photons to a minimum. (Full story)

Glacial moulin formation triggered by rapid lake drainage

A moulin on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Credit: Halorache

Scientists are uncovering the mystery of how, where and when important glacial features called moulins form on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Moulins, vertical conduits that penetrate through the half-mile-deep ice, efficiently funnel the majority of summer meltwater from the ice surface to the base of the ice sheet. The lubricating effects of the draining water can lead to faster sliding of the ice sheet. A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, finds meltwater lakes that form on the ice surface can drain through moulins in a matter of hours.

"Forming a moulin in Greenland requires a crack on the ice surface, which becomes filled with water that eventually drives the crack through the ice," said Matthew Hoffman, a glaciologist and computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico and lead author of the new study. "But there's a mystery here: A large fraction of the moulins in Greenland form some distance away from the ice sheet's existing crevasse fields." (Full story)

Learn more about Venture Acceleration Fund

Early stage businesses, or even those that are more established, often find it hard to land the right cash infusion, especially when traditional bank financing can be elusive. Under this common scenario, funding through the Venture Acceleration Fund could be the needed boost.

The Venture Acceleration Fund was launched by Los Alamos National Security LLC, the partnership that manages Los Alamos National Laboratory, and it provides most of the money that make up the fund. In recent years, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties, the city of Santa Fe and New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership have also contributed. (Full story)