The ambitious colonisation program of MARS, have a lot of debates lately on choosing the right energy source, which can generate power to back essential systems like O2 generators, weather stabilisers for astronauts, etc.

There is a feasibility study being done by NASA scientists for their manned missions by choosing the existing power generation sources on EARTH like Nuclear and Solar PV.

Let’s evaluate further the pros and cons of the said systems in the martian ecosystem and their roles if these energy sources are chosen.

Nuclear and Solar PV

Nuclear Reactors in Space

NASA's future power generation plans include a nuclear fission system that splits uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor to produce heat. Compared to radioisotope systems (RTGs) that power rovers like Perseverance, nuclear fission systems can generate more power while remaining small.

In March 2018, the agency's KiloPower project demonstrated a nuclear fission experiment capable of producing 1 kilowatt of power, the basis for future space reactors. The experiment, named KRUSTY after Stirling Technologies' Kilopower reactor, was powered by a uranium-235 core described by NASA as "about the size of a roll of paper towels." The heat generated by this was converted into electricity by a mechanism called a Stirling engine.

Future nuclear fission surface energy systems will be small, lightweight, and capable of operating for at least ten years. This makes the concept ideal for future missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

Last year, NASA worked with the Department of Energy to solicit industry ideas for a 10-kilowatt system. With four or five such units installed, including generating oxygen for rocket fuel and supporting the needs of three to four astronauts estimated at a total of about 40 kilowatts, a Martian habitat would be possible. It can power the earth and everything that comes with it.

Nuclear Reactors in Space

Dionne Hernandez-Lugo is the Project Manager for Kilopower and is currently the Associate Project Manager for NASA's Fission Surface Power Lunar Technology Demonstration.

The Artemis program will demonstrate the system on the moon first, she believes. “Project aims to develop a 10-kilowatt system and demonstrate it on the moon to better understand the system.”

The engine will remain on the lunar lander for the first test on the moon. Leaving the unit on the lander "makes the system easier to operate, rather than expend the extra mass that allows it to be removed," she explained. It is working. But they are also looking for ideas from the industry on how the changing system will work.

Are Nuclear reactors safe for space?

One of the factors people worry about using nuclear energy on Earth is safety, and this is also true for space missions. Radioactive elements used in nuclear power plants (such as the uranium used in the KiloPower demonstration) emit dangerous radiation to humans and can cause problems for nearby electronic equipment.

To protect both humans and electronics, the nuclear fission system is surrounded by a thick metal shield that confines the radiation. New power systems for Mars missions undergo extensive testing on Earth to ensure they are safe under extreme conditions such as Motion Tests, Vacuum Tests, and Vibration Tests.

Hernandez-Lugo said NASA has launched more than 20 missions in the past using various types of nuclear power systems.

The Kilopower demonstration also used highly enriched uranium, which is a concern. Political leaders are concerned that this material could be used to make nuclear weapons on Earth if used in space projects.

Power from the Sun

But nuclear power is not the only option for power generation. One of his most widely used energy options for space missions today is solar power. The European Space Agency (ESA) uses solar power on virtually all of its missions, and its upcoming Mars rover, named Rosalind Franklin, will also use solar power.

”In space, efficiency is even more crucial than on Earth, and one should always consider what's technically feasible.”

Power from the Sun

Leopold Summerer, head of ESA's Advanced Concepts Team, which studies new technologies for space missions, says solar power is superior to nuclear power because it doesn't require additional safety measures. He also pointed out that the widespread use of solar energy technology on Earth means constant developments applicable to space missions. ' He said.

This rapid pace of development means engineers are designing panels that can generate more power from the same amount of sunlight, and Summerer expects future solar systems to become increasingly efficient.

"Efficiency is even more important in space than on Earth. We are always pushing what is technically possible," says Summerer. Relatively small increases in solar cell efficiency and mass can make a big difference in the overall cost of a solar cell system, especially for small vehicles like satellites.

However, like all technology, there are limits to the use of solar energy. "It has the drawback of relying on an external light source, the sun, and all the drawbacks that come with it," Summerer said. Energy from the sun is often intermittent. On planets with day/night cycles, batteries can be used to store extra energy during the day and continue to supply it during the night. However, this not only adds another bulky element to the power system, it adds even more complexity.

A futuristic solution to this problem is the development of orbiting solar power plants that work in conjunction with solar panels on the surface to collect energy from the sun and radiate it wirelessly back to the surface. ESA is currently looking for a concept to bring this idea to life.

The Sunlight on Mars

However, there are some challenges to harnessing solar power, especially when it comes to Mars. Since it is farther from the Sun than Earth, less sunlight reaches its surface. That means Mars researchers will have access to about half of the solar radiation on Earth.

This does not mean that the use of solar energy on Mars is impossible, but that the mission will have to be very careful with power consumption. NASA's previous generation Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, used solar power, and current orbiters such as Mars Express and Mars His Orbiter Mission also use solar power.

But Mars has another problem: dust storms. Mars has a complex weather system, with occasional large global dust storms that temporarily block most of the sunlight and cover almost everything on the ground, including solar panels, with a layer of dust. That's why the incredibly long-lived Rover Opportunity eventually went dark when a massive dust storm hit Mars in 2018.

Summerer believes that a combination of ground and orbital solar power plants could likely generate enough energy for human habitation. However, he also acknowledged that it makes sense to combine solar energy with other energy sources such as nuclear energy. "Solar power, complemented on the surface and eventually from orbit, could provide enough power for human habitation on Mars, but modern rovers like the just-landed Perseverance have shown, small nuclear power plants sometimes offer such a huge competitive advantage that I would not expect them to play a similar role," he wrote.

How Waaree can Help?


How Waaree can Help

Waaree Energies Ltd. is the flagship company of Waaree Group, founded in 1989 with headquarters in Mumbai, India. It has India's largest Solar panel manufacturing capacity of 5GWs at its plants in Surat and Umbergaon in Gujarat. Waaree Energies is amongst the top players in India in Solar Panel Manufacturing, EPC Services, Project Development, Rooftop Solutions, and Solar Water Pumps and is also an Independent Power Producer. Waaree has its presence in over 380 locations nationally and 20 countries internationally. Step on to your cleaner journey by contacting us at 18002121321 or mail us at

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