Economical Radioisotope Power
Universities Space Research Association
Almost all robotic space exploration missions and all Apollo missions to the moon used Radioisotopic Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) to provide electrical power to instruments. The RTGs rely on the conversion of the heat produced by the radioactive decay of an isotope of plutonium (Pu-238) to electricity. Unfortunately, the supply of Pu-238 is about to run out. Developing a reliable supply of Pu-238 is crucial to almost all future space missions. We propose to investigate an economical production method for Pu-238 that will allow NASA or a private venture to produce several kilograms per year without the need for large government investment. The Center for Space Nuclear Research will evaluate the production rate in a commercial nuclear reactor, optimize the transit times of the target material in the reactor, assess costs of facilities to produce the isotopes, and estimate any costs to handle the waste stream form the process.