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NASA tests nuclear-powered space probe for deep exploration (VIDEO)

The engine would use a relatively small nuclear uranium battery that brings heat into a piston-pumped engine.

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NASA has successfully tested a nuclear-powered space probe that could explore more deeply into the universe. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

NASA has tested a prototype of a nuclear engine that could power space probes some day sending them deep into the universe.

The engine would use a relatively small nuclear uranium battery that brings heat into a piston-pumped Stirling engine.

The prototype was tested at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Wired, that used 24 watts of energy, much less than the 600 to 700 watts to power a probe.

It is the first test of a nuclear powered spaceship since 1965, meaning the technology has existed but has not been extensively tested.

Future deep-space probes would likely need energy sources that can last up to 40 or 50 years, which only nuclear power can currently do.

The Space Reporter said that alternative energy sources such as solar panels would not work because sunlight becomes too weak further out.

TechNewsWorld reported that scientists are optimistic that the use of Stirling engine will change the future of spacecraft.

"In general, development of effective and reliable Stirling generators -- known as dynamic systems that use mechanically moving parts -- could become very important for long duration space flight as an effective way of producing electrical power," Michael Gruntman, a professor of aerospace engineering and systems architecture engineering at USC told TechNewsWorld.

"A lot of work is going on in this area," he added.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/science/121128/nasa-tests-nuclear-powered-space-probe-deep-exploration