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Chinese nuclear reactor proposal could power 10 International Space Stations

rainbow colored model of nuclear power

A Chinese nuclear reactor model shines at the innoTech Expo 2016 in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.(Image credit: Martin Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

China is continue on nuclear power in space.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology approved a space nuclear reactor project looking to generate a megawatt of electricity, in accordance with SpaceNews (opens in new tab).

That’s enough room power to keep carefully the exact carbon copy of 10 International Space Stations going, in accordance with a NASA estimate (opens in new tab) showing the complex receives 120 kilowatts of electrical energy for the most part. The media outlets cited by SpaceNews haven’t explained why China wants this type of powerful reactor, nor released any technical details.

Space missions often pivot to nuclear power once the sun is a long way away, or in zones of itinerant or weak sunlight just like the far side of the moon or the top of Mars. Nuclear power could also boost future human spaceflight missions, and NASA, DARPA and the Department of Defense all have nuclear projects ongoing.

Related: NASA thinks US needs nuclear-powered spacecraft to remain before China

The announcement employs experts warned this past year that the U.S. must put additional money into nuclear-powered spacecraft.

“Strategic competitors including China are aggressively purchasing a wide variety of space technologies, including nuclear power and propulsion,” Bhavya Lal, NASA’s senior advisor for budget and finance, said throughout a government hearing in October 2021 that centered on nuclear propulsion in space.

“AMERICA must move at an easy pace to remain competitive also to remain a leader in the global space community,” continued Lal, speaking prior to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee.

NASA is engaged in accumulating infrastructure for moon missions beneath the Artemis program, which might try space power technologies on the lunar surface before future Mars exploration. At best, the initial crewed surface missions to the moon will be in 2025.

Related: What sort of small nuclear reactor could power a colony on Mars or beyond (op-ed)

The Chinese project was initially begun in 2019 within “a solid Chinese fascination with developing nuclear power for used in space,” SpaceNews said.

China’s media is state-controlled; in 2021, the South China Morning Post reportedly announced a prototype nuclear design was completed for space power.

The united states is highly experienced in using nuclear power during space missions, with the Chang’e 3 moon lander, for instance, utilizing a plutonium-powered nuclear generator to survive the frigid, two-week lunar night.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is really a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to greatly help others explore the universe. Elizabeth’s on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from the simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada’s Carleton University. Elizabeth can be a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got thinking about space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, but still really wants to be an astronaut someday.

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