Research & Development

Nuclear In Space / New US Company To Develop Los Alamos’ Kilopower Reactor

By David Dalton
6 November 2020

New US Company To Develop Los Alamos’ Kilopower Reactor
An artist’s rendition of KiloPower reactors powering a human habitat on Mars. Courtesy SpaceNukes/NASA/Los Alamos.
The US government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has signed an agreement to licence its Kilopower space reactor technology to Space Nuclear Power Corporation (SpaceNukes), a move it says will speed up a nuclear reactor technology that could be used to fuel deep-space exploration and possibly power human habitats on the Moon or Mars.

The Kilopower technology was developed at the laboratory in partnership with NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Patrick McClure, who served as project lead for Kilopower at Los Alamos and is now a partner in SpaceNukes, said that by creating a new company, Kilopower’s founders are hoping to be able to reach potential new sponsors “who will want to take this technology to the next level and put it into space”.

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing various ranges of power depending on the need. For example, SpaceNukes offers low-kilowatt reactors to power deep space missions, middle-range reactors in the tens of kilowatts to power a lunar or martian habitat, and much larger reactors in the hundreds of kilowatts that could make enough propellant for a rocket to return to Earth after a stay on Mars.

SpaceNukes, also based in Los Alamos, said the licensing agreement demonstrates how tech-transfer should work: the government and national laboratories invest in technologies that are unproven and advance them far enough to make them commercially viable.

SpaceNukes is pursuing opportunities with NASA for a lunar surface reactor and has presented its ideas to the US Air Force and Space Force for reactor concepts for cislunar space.

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