- Number 369 |
- August 13, 2012
Mars rover uses nuclear power system assembled, tested in Idaho
NASA’s Mars Science Lab mission and its
rover Curiosity will get heat and electricity
from a radioisotope power system fueled
and tested at INL.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover named Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars earlier this month and began a two-year mission exploring the planet’s Gale Crater area for signs of past and present inhabitability.
While on Mars, Curiosity will carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on the red planet. Those instruments will be powered by heat from a nuclear power system assembled and extensively tested at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory.
The system will supply warmth and electricity to Curiosity and its scientific instruments using heat from nuclear decay. The generator is fueled with a ceramic form of plutonium dioxide encased in multiple layers of protective materials including iridium capsules and high-strength graphite blocks.
As the plutonium naturally decays, it gives off heat, which is circulated through the rover by heat transfer fluid plumbed throughout the system. Electric voltage is produced by using thermocouples, which exploit the temperature difference between the heat source and the cold exterior.
The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator is the latest “space battery” to reliably power a deep space mission for many years. NASA has used nuclear batteries to safely and reliably power 26 missions over the past 50 years.Curiosity was launched from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 26, 2011, aboard an Atlas V rocket and traveled more than 352 million miles over nine months to reach Mars.
[Teri Ehresman, 208.526.7785,