Popular Science

Nuclear reactors the size of wastebaskets could power our Martian settlements

Small, but mighty.

kilopower system

An artist's illustration of what a Kilopower power plant might look like on Mars.

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.

The Kilopower reactor

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