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November 28 2012
Researchers have tested a small prototype of a nuclear-reactor engine design that could one day power deep-space exploration probes.
The proposed design is based on a Stirling engine - an engine first invented in the 19th century that uses hot pressurized gas to push a piston. It would use a 50-pound nuclear uranium battery to generate heat that is then carried to eight Stirling engines to produce about 500 watts of power.
Scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory have tested a pared-down prototype of this design using a small nuclear source and a single Stirling engine that produced about 24 watts of energy.
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