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A Chinese space nuclear reactor is 100 times more capable than its American counterpart, ending the energy problem for future astronauts

A Chinese space nuclear reactor is 100 times more capable than its American counterpart, ending the energy problem for future astronauts

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A team of Chinese researchers announced today, Monday, the completion of the development of a prototype of a powerful nuclear reactor for the Chinese space program, which is 100 times more capable of generating electricity than the American counterpart, which NASA plans to install on the surface of the moon by 2030.

The project was launched with funding from the Chinese central government in 2019, although technical details and launch date were not disclosed, the engineering design of the prototype has recently been completed and some important components of the reactor have been manufactured, according to the report. The newspaper “atomic-energy” reported.
For China, this is an ambitious project that faces unprecedented challenges. The only nuclear device known to the public that China has sent into space is a small radioactive battery “Yuytu 2”, the first to land on the far side of the moon in 2019. It can generate only a small amount of energy To help the rover on the moon.

According to Chinese researchers, traditional fuels and solar panels will not be enough to meet the human needs for space exploration, which is expected to expand greatly, and China is seriously considering securing future energy needs on the lunar surface, where human settlements on the Moon or Mars will be in the future plan.

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“Cooling technology is one of the main challenges of the Chinese space reactor, only part of the heat generated by the reactor will be used to generate electricity, and the rest must be quickly dissipated in space to avoid any Uncalculated side effects.

To address this issue, the reactor will use a collapsible structure like a canopy to increase the overall surface area of ​​heat radiators into space.

The space reactor will operate at temperatures well above Earth (possibly as high as 2,000 degrees Celsius in the core), and will use liquid lithium as a heat carrier to increase the efficiency of power generation. But at temperatures below 180 degrees Celsius, lithium becomes solid, another hurdle that the Chinese team must overcome.

Not the first nuclear project in space

This is not the first time that nuclear energy has been used in space. Nuclear energy has been used for space exploration for decades, according to the Russian nuclear energy giant Rosatom.

Nuclear technology and techniques were first installed on a spacecraft in 1965. Nuclear reactors are used nowadays when the required amount of energy cannot be obtained by other means such as solar panels or atomic energy sources. For example, solar cells are not sufficient for large-scale projects such as exploring the moon or sending a manned mission to Mars, so nuclear power facilities will be needed.

According to recent estimates made by various research centers, the use of atomic energy for long-distance space flights will save financial resources and reduce the time of interplanetary expeditions. The trip to Mars with a nuclear engine would be three times shorter than those using conventional chemical-fueled jet engines. And it will be possible to reach the limits of the solar system not in 10 years, but only in 3 years.

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Besides, nuclear power facilities can be used not only as a source of electricity for space debris sweepers, probes, landers and scouts on missions out of Earth orbit, but also as heat energy to support human life and production activities on extraterrestrial bases.

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