Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), NASA and National Security Technologies have teamed up to make a fission reactor which is believed to be usable to generate power on space shuttles.
They are calling it the Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions, DUFF for short. The present assembly generates 24 watts of power, but is believed to generate up to 1 kilowatt if combined with other modules. LANL officials said that the reactor took six months from inception to completion and the cost was under a million dollars.
DUFF was based on an existing project called Flattop. LANL invented the heat pipe in 1963 which was used for extracting heat from a nuclear reactor. They combined the heat pipe and a stirling engine which is closed-loop engine that uses a pressurized gas to move a piston and thereby converts heat energy into electrical power.
“The nuclear characteristics and thermal power level of the experiment are remarkably similar to our space reactor flight concept. The biggest difference between DUFF and a possible flight system is that the Stirling input temperature would need to be hotter to attain the required efficiency and power output needed for space missions.” said David Poston a LANL engineer.
DUFF is the first demonstration on a space nuclear reactor system in a long time. More power on a space shuttle can mean faster communication between the shuttle and Earth Base.