Tiny nuclear reactors could help us get to Mars

The idea sounds simple and would be effective

Elon Musk’s SpaceX may be dominating the public imagination in 2020, but countless companies around the world are also working on spaceflight, or even components of spaceflight. One of the latest moves is from private industry groups seeking to put nuclear-powered spacecraft at the forefront of plans to reach Mars someday.

The idea sounds simple, and would be effective: a tiny nuclear reactor is fully, safely encased so that the only way for energy to escape is through a funneled opening. “Low enriched uranium” is split by neutrons that initiate a chain reaction, and hydrogen propellant flowing through is vaporized into huge volumes.

This is how thrust is produced. In a way, it’s a kind of directed nuclear weapon reaction with a limiter installed. Proponents on the panel say the fuel they use is less volatile and the reaction itself is less dangerous than the association with fission weapons might suggest.

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Read more: Popular Mechanics