Mr Joseph Heslop

Research project: The Design and Optimisation of a Power Conversion System for a Small-Scale Fission Reactor Suitable for Powering Future Crewed Exploration on Mars


Humankind's exploration of Mars will undoubtedly present complex challenges, demanding innovative solutions to questions not yet asked. Direct human involvement on the surface of Mars will require a greater understanding of systems which will support human biology. Paramount to these challenges will be the safe and reliable generation of usable power, utilising a source which is universally adaptable to all surface operations and systems. 

Multinational interest in space-capable nuclear fission reactors for Lunar applications is growing strongly. NASA and the Department of Energy (DoE) have begun a joint venture investigating this development and associated initial requirements, designs, schedules, and cost estimates for a 40kW class fission power system. 

The NASA Artemis program intends to develop fission power generation technologies for forthcoming Lunar missions, which will function as a transferable testbed for Mars. Separate from the Artemis program; little research is projected forward beyond Lunar missions and directly focused on the challenges represented by Mars. Indeed, there is a real risk that Lunar-based technologies may not be suitably optimised for the Martian environment. 

This research project assesses planetary power generation systems, establishing an understanding of space mission design and habitat construction characteristic impact on energy production needs. Furthermore, environmental, and operational challenges regarding nuclear fission systems specific to the unique challenges of the Martian environment are explored. Critical to these include the heat transfer characteristics, materials, and thermo-electrical power conversion systems of a small-scale fission reactor suitable for powering future manned Martian exploration.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: The Design and Optimisation of a Power Conversion System for a Small-Scale Fission Reactor Suitable for Powering Future Crewed Exploration on Mars
  • Research supervisor: Professor Andy Augousti
  • Other research supervisor: Dr Malcolm Claus


I completed an MEng in Aerospace, Astronautics and Space Technologies where I was privileged to have access to modern facilities, space hardware and engaging instructors. This environment fostered a keen interest in the surface operations of planetary roving vehicles, and the unique challenges engineers must overcome to manufacture reliable products in rugged, atypical environments. My undergraduate studies primarily focused on radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), from which I gained an appreciation for nuclear power production in harsh, high-variance conditions.

My undergraduate studies guided the discovery of a passion towards power production optimisation for potentiating downstream operations. This interest led me to pursue a PhD, discovering potential options for future energy plants of Martian colonies.

Areas of research interest

  • Nuclear Energy
  • Fission Reactor Design
  • Planetary Habitation
  • Mars Geology


  • MEng in Aerospace, Astronautics and Space Technologies, Kingston University