NASA’s Kilopower program aims to jumpstart a new approach to powering exploration in the future by utilization of fission reactors. The heat from these reactors then drives Stirling engines that when coupled with generators, can produce the power required for future missions. The proposed program aims to have QorTek work with Sunpower to further enhance the capability of their Stirling generators and provide a radiation hardened solution for NASA’s program requirements. Previous work completed by Sunpower has demonstrated the operation of the engine and controller and to meet this program’s requirements will require the current generation of Stirling controller to be upgraded to 1kW of capability. The design of the controller and Stirling engine is desired to be modular such that multiple 1kW systems can be placed in parallel further increasing power availability. With the design completed and with engine simulators from Sunpower, we aim to demonstrate the feasibility and operation of the engine before focusing on core components to radiation hardened. Radiation hardening is anticipated to be a challenge due to the proximity of the engine and controller electronics to the reactor and the objective is to utilize state of the art WBG materials to help achieve as high a radiation resistance as possible to minimize required shielding.
A critical application for this technology is with NASA’s current Kilopower program and firstly, demonstrating a full system at the 1kW level. The Titan Saturn System Mission (TSSM) is now considering employing a 1KW version of Kilopower design if it comes to fruition. This mission will include both Titan orbital flybys and lander. Another potential Kilopower insertion mission would be the Kuiper Belt Object Orbiter (KBOO).
Non-NASA applications for this technology would potential be focused on our Navy and Army programs. In addition, the Air Force and MDA would have interest in the converters and the Rad hard technology. Both DoD entities have interest in radiation hardened designs and the challenge of this program, specifically dealing with neutrons will lend itself well into these government agency programs.