Friday, May 8, 2009

Deep space missions may get new jolt of fuel

Apollo 12 lunar module pilot Al Bean unloads RTG
fuel cell from descent stage. With negligible power
loss, the mission's Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment
Packages (ALSAP) continued to return data, until
de-funded and shut-down in 1977.
(NASA Pete Conrad, Nov. 1969 - AS12-46-6790)

John Johnson, Jr. - Los Angeles Times - The Department of Energy plans to restart its program of making radioactive fuel for NASA's deep space missions, the agency announced Thursday, a decision that came only hours after the National Research Council warned that the nation is fast running out of the fuel.

Jen Stutsman, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the agency has requested $30 million in its fiscal 2010 budget proposal to restart the fuel-making process. In its budget statement, the agency said it had "a long and successful history" of supporting NASA's needs. It said it welcomes the National Research Council findings.

In a 74-page report, entitled "Radioisotope Power Systems: An Imperative for Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space Exploration," the National Research Council pointed out that American leadership in space has depended in part on the ability to power spacecraft on deep space missions, in which the sun's rays are too weak to make solar power.

For such research, which include the New Horizons mission now heading for Pluto and the Cassini mission now orbiting Saturn, the electricity that powers onboard instruments comes from devices called radioisotope power generators. The RPGs make electricity with the heat from the radioactive decay of small amounts of plutonium-238 carried on board.

Read the Article HERE.

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