Science

China’s proposed nuclear reactor could power 10 international space stations

China is moving forward in the field of nuclear power in space.

The Ministry of Science and Technology of China has approved a project for a space nuclear reactor aimed at generating a megawatt of electricity, SpaceNews reports. (will open in a new tab).

According to NASA, this space energy is enough to power 10 international space stations. (will open in a new tab) showing that the complex receives no more than 120 kilowatts of electricity. The media cited by SpaceNews did not explain why China is looking for such a powerful reactor, nor did they release any technical details.

Space missions often use nuclear power when the sun is far away or in areas of stray or weak sunlight, such as the far side of the Moon or the surface of Mars. Nuclear power can also spur future human spaceflight, and NASA, DARPA, and the Department of Defense have ongoing nuclear projects.

On the subject: NASA thinks US needs nuclear-powered spacecraft to get ahead of China

The announcement comes after experts warned last year that the US needed to invest more money in nuclear-powered spacecraft.

“Strategic competitors, including China, are actively investing in a wide range of space technologies, including nuclear power and propulsion,” said Bhavya Lal, NASA Senior Budget and Finance Advisor, during an October 2021 government hearing on nuclear propulsion in space. .

“The United States needs to move at a fast pace to remain competitive and remain a leader in the global space community,” Lal continued, speaking before the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

NASA is building the infrastructure for lunar missions under the Artemis program, which can test space-based power technologies on the surface of the moon ahead of future exploration of Mars. At best, the first manned ground missions to the Moon will take place in 2025.

Related: How a small nuclear reactor could power a colony on or off Mars (column)

The Chinese project was first launched in 2019 as part of “China’s strong interest in developing nuclear power for use in space,” according to SpaceNews.

China’s media is controlled by the state; In 2021, the South China Morning Post reportedly announced the completion of the development of a prototype nuclear power for space power.

The country has a long history of using nuclear power for space missions: the Chang’e-3 lunar lander, for example, uses a plutonium-powered nuclear generator to survive a cold two-week lunar night.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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