jún, 2019

20júnCelodennéENS webinar:"Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators: How to power a spacecraft where the sun doesn't shine"


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Plutonium-238 has been used as a power source for spacecraft since the early days of space exploration. It has proven to be an effective source of power where the use of solar generated power is impractical. Historically, Europe has relied on collaborations with the USA or Russia to access these nuclear power sources. During 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) funded a project to examine the cost and practicality of establishing a European source of material suitable for Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) and concluded that 241Am was the most suitable choice for European based production. This takes what would otherwise be a waste material from the nuclear industry and uses it to power future science exploration missions in outer space. This is also very much cheaper than the development of a European supply of 238Pu, and the material has much greater availability opening up the potential for many more missions.

The preferred European alternative of 241Am for use in future RPS and the issues that will need to be addressed has continued with the development and underpinning of a conceptual flowsheet to be used for production of 241Am.  The National Nuclear Laboratory has assessed the feasibility and costs associated with installing within its existing facilities a European Radioisotope Production Facility to produce 241Am for use by the European Space Agency in radioisotope power systems for space missions. Work has also been completed on validating the flowsheet, along with the production of a quantity of separated 241Am for analysis. This has included using aged plutonium in NNL’s PuMA laboratory, the separation of 241Am from this material, and the use of the separated material to provide electrical power.

Provision of RPSs to future missions would bring significant benefit to the range of science in space exploration that is able to be achieved. The webinar will outline the reasons behind the choice of 241Am, the development work that has taken place so far, and the expected route forward towards a flight ready system.

by Tim Tinsley CEng
Account Director – Special Nuclear Materials,
European Space Agency, & Radioisotopes


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