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Autonomous Tritium Micropowered Sensors

Artist rendition of Autonomous Tritium Micropowered Sensors
Graphic depiction of Autonomous Tritium Micropowered Sensors
Peter Cabauy

Peter Cabauy
City Labs, Inc.

Conducting in-situ analyses in the Moon’s south pole region presents a significant technical challenge. The extremely cold temperatures in the dark, cratered regions of the Moon’s south pole, which reach as low as -248 ºC, create an inhospitable environment that hampers the functionality of traditional battery-powered equipment, thereby restricting ground-based scientific observations. Betavoltaic batteries generate electric power from radioactive decay, enabling unique solutions for lunar-surface operations as they can operate at significantly lower temperature ranges and survive a wider range of environmental conditions thanconventional batteries. State-of-the-art tritium betavoltaics have a long history of providing consistent nanowatt power under extreme environmental conditions. To meet NASA’s science and human-exploration objectives in cold environments, such as the moon, we propose to develop nuclear-micropowered probes (NMPs) powered by microwatt power level tritium betavoltaic sources, reconceiving this field for an entirely new domain. The proposed centimeter-scale autonomous sensors would be dispersed throughout permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) in the southern pole, where water resources are abundant but solar power is unavailable. The technological innovation of tritium betavoltaics in NMPs offers a groundbreaking bridge between these lunar resources—water and power—making feasible lunar science measurements in these extremely harsh and frigid environments and NASA’s subsequent utilization of these resources. The impact to NASA will be a resilient, cost-effective, and energy-efficient technology that enables the acquisition of previously unattainable measurements to characterize the abundance and location of lunar volatiles, such as water, in support of a permanent human presence. We intend to develop a probe that integrates City Labs’ betavoltaic power supply with the ChipSat technology developed at Cornell University, representing a cost-effective opportunity for near-term infusion of this novel, low-TRL power technology. The proposed concept of nuclear-micropowered probes utilizing tritium betavoltaics to explore dark lunar craters holds significant innovation and potential impact with relevance to current and future NASA priorities. The ability to operate in the extreme cold, coupled with the utilization of spectrometers and radio communication capabilities, enables the collection of novel data related to water resources and geological characteristics. Moreover, the small lightweight nature of the probes facilitates multiple deployments, allowing extensive surface mapping and exploration. This concept advances our understanding of the Moon. It is an important proof of concept for similar technology to be deployed on other cold planetary bodies beyond the Moon, furthering our knowledge of the solar system and informing human space exploration initiatives.

2024 Phase I Selection