At Idaho National Laboratory’s Center for Space Nuclear Research researchers and student fellows are developing designs for a nuclear-powered Mars hopper. The current Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have covered about 21 miles of terrains in their combined 11 years of operation. According to CSNR Director Steven Howe, these nuclear-powered hoppers may be able to cover over 9 miles every five to seven days.
These hoppers’ beryllium core would store radioisotope heat. The hoppers would also be able to suck up the carbon-dioxide-rich Martian atmosphere and use it as a propellant. Stored heat from the core would hit the propellant, rocketing the hopper up and over to its next landing spot. William Taitano, an INL nuclear engineer, estimates that a mid-sized hopper could travel over 3 miles in a single leap. At the peak of the arch, it would be able to clear the tallest building on Earth .
This hopper is the latest in a long line of spacecraft and robots that rely on nuclear technology, including Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs or “space batteries”) that have helped power the Apollo lunar experiments, the Voyager, Viking and Pioneer space probes and the Cassini spacecraft.
Howe and his team hope to take a prototype hopper engine out to the INL desert site for a test hop within the next two years.
Learn more about INL’s efforts to advance nuclear-powered space exploration here.
Every year, more than 2,500 scientists come from all over the world to perform experiments at Brookhaven National Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source. Last week, high school and middle school students from Elwood-John Glenn High School, Sachem East High School and Islip Middle School in Long Island joined their ranks.
Via webcast, students from John Glenn and Sachem East used the NSLS to examine how biofilms from bacteria, algae and fungi can be used to clean up toxic levels of copper in fresh water, while Islip students compared the effectiveness of several home water filters. They watched as BNL scientists probed their samples with powerful x-ray beams.
Through the Introducing Synchrotrons into the Classrooms (InSynC) program, students and teachers submitted proposals to a team of synchrotron scientists and science educators. The winning applications were awarded beam time on the NSLS. InSynC plans to expand this program into a nationwide competition for students.
You can learn more about the program and how to get involved here.