Tiny Nuclear Reactors Could Help Us Get to Mars

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May 29, 2020 | Originally published by Popular Mechanics on April 7, 2020

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.