On January 19, 2006 NASA successfully launched the New Horizons spacecraft on a mission to Pluto. It will fly by the ninth planet on July 14, 2015 before proceeding into the Kuiper Belt.
New Horizons is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) fueled by plutonium-238. The natural heat of decay of the plutonium-238 fuel is converted to about 200 watts of electricity by means of thermoelectric cells.
“Since 1961, the United States has successfully flown 41 radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) and one reactor to provide power for 24 space systems,” reported Gary L. Bennett in a newly updated history of space nuclear power (pdf).
“The development and use of nuclear power in space has enabled the human race to extend its vision into regions that would not have been possible with non-nuclear power sources,” wrote Bennett, a former Energy Department and NASA official who devoted much of his career to the development of space nuclear power sources.
See “Space Nuclear Power: Opening the Final Frontier” by Gary L. Bennett, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics paper number AIAA-2006-4191, presented at the 4th International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference, June 2006 (posted with the author’s permission).
Update: And see, relatedly, “Mission of Daring: The General-Purpose Heat Source Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator” (pdf) by Gary L. Bennett and James J. Lombardo, et al, (AIAA-2006-4096, also presented at the 4th IECEC, June 2006.
Here’s what we learned at the 2nd Meeting of States Parties (MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
To empower new voices to start their career in nuclear weapons studies, the Federation of American Scientists launched the New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship. Here’s what our inaugural cohort accomplished.
Common frameworks for evaluating proposals leave this utility function implicit, often evaluating aspects of risk, uncertainty, and potential value independently and qualitatively.
The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans […]