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Radioisotope Power Systems, Plutonium-238 and the Future Of United States Space Missions:2019 Analysis and Forecasts

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Radioisotope Power Systems, Plutonium-238 and the Future Of United States Space Missions:2019 Analysis and Forecasts
Published: November 13, 2019 Content info: 246 Pages
Description

Radioisotope power systems (RPS) are a critical technology to provide electricity for space missions. RPS produce electrical power by converting the heat generated by the natural radioactive decay of Plutonium-238 to electricity. They have been in use by the United States for over 50 years and NASA missions have utilized RPS to explore planets, moons, and interstellar space. This exploration resulted in changes to our understanding of our Solar System and our place within it., as well as improve life on Earth.

Despite their critical role in the U.S. space program, little is known about RPS technology outside NASA and some of their contractors. This report addresses that situation by examining current and future RPS technology, missions they are used for, Plutonium processing technologies, U.S. government agencies and laboratories involved producing RPS and processing Plutonium, RPS related budgets and private companies working in this field.

The world is entering a new era in Space where there will be more advances in the next few decades than throughout human history. RPS will be needed for these future missions (e.g. Lunar Gateway, Mars 2020) just like they have been in the past (e.g. Voyager 2, launched in 1977 and now sending signals back to earth from interstellar space).

Key Words: radioisotope power systems, product families, future RPS, NASA roles and responsibilities, space mission types, U.S. Department of Energy, Plutonium-238, RPS program, acquiring flight systems, Plutonium-238 supply project, constant rate production strategy, RPS funding, Plutonium-238 production, fundamental research, RPS selection, technology roadmap MMRTG, costs, RPS demand, advanced stirling radioisotope generators, dynamic RPS, Skutterudite, eMMRTG, modular RPS, solar technology, Pu-238 synthesis, PU-238 production, neptunium, production equipment, testing, chemical processing, staffing, target irradiation, radioisotope thermoelectric generators, GPHS modules, technology readiness levels, system considerations, NASA/DOE agreements, nuclear safety, Savannah River, process scale-up, production automation, nuclear reactors, dynamic power convertors, atmospheric compositions, temperature limits, Infinia Technology Corp, American Superconductor, Creare LL, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Sunpower Inc., Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Glenn Research Center, NASA priority goals, NASA planetary science budget.

This report was prepared by a senior American analyst working for a United States-based company. The report includes 56 figures and 25 tables.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

CONTENTS

RADIOISOTOPE POWER SYSTEMS

  • Introduction
  • RPS and Space Missions
  • NASA Mission Portfolio and Classes
  • Mission Types
  • Flagship Missions
  • New Frontiers Missions
  • Discovery Missions
  • NASA RPS Program
  • Program Content and Structure
  • Acquiring Flight Systems
  • DOE's Role
  • Pu-238 Supply Project
  • Constant Rate Production Strategy
  • RPS Production and DOE Laboratories
  • ORNL
  • LANL
  • INL
  • RPS Production Funding
  • New Technology Investments
  • NASA RPS Selection Process
  • Operational Considerations
  • Costs and RPS Demand
  • Flagship-Class Missions
  • Discovery-Class Missions
  • DOE's Production Capability
  • Technological Advances and Pu-238 Demand
  • ASRG
  • Dynamic RPS Funding
  • Thermoelectrics
  • Skutterudite
  • eMMRTG
  • Modular RPS
  • Solar Technology
  • Demand from Other Users
  • Reestablishing Pu-238 Production Challenges
  • Long Road to Shortage
  • Synthesizing PU-238
  • Plutonium Production Problems
  • Automating Pu-238 Production
  • Neptunium
  • LANL Production Equipment
  • Testing and Fabricating at INL
  • Production Challenges
  • Chemical Processing
  • Staffing Issues
  • Reactor Positions for Target Irradiation
  • Competition from Other Users
  • Outlook

NEXT GENERATION RADIOISOTOPE THERMOELECTRIC GENERATORS

  • Background
  • Radioisotope Power Systems
  • RPS Product Families
  • Current System
  • System in Development
  • Other Potential Future Systems
  • Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators
  • Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
  • GPHS Assembly
  • Converter Assembly
  • Converter Housing
  • System Considerations
  • Fuel
  • TRL
  • MMRTG F2, F3, F4-6
  • Enhanced MMRTG
  • eMMRTG Conceptual Design
  • GPHS Assembly
  • Converter Assembly
  • Converter Housing
  • System Considerations
  • Nominal Operations
  • Thermal Compliance
  • Mechanical Compliance
  • Fault Protection
  • Schedule
  • Possible Future RPS

PLUTONIUM-238

  • Background
  • NASA Roles and Responsibilities
  • NASA and DOE Agreements
  • RPS Nuclear Safety
  • Savannah River Plant
  • Re-Establishing Production
  • Critical Supply
  • Radioisotope Power System Production
  • PU-238 Synthesis
  • Plutonium-238 Production
  • Process Scale-Up
  • Future Pu-238 Production
  • Potential Production Problems
  • Automating Pu-238 Production
  • Neptunium
  • LANL Production Equipment
  • INL Testing and Fabricating
  • Chemical Processing
  • Staffing Issues
  • Reactor Positions
  • Other Users
  • Target Design and Qualification
  • NASA Priorities
  • Impact of New Technologies

DYNAMIC POWER CONVERSION

  • Background
  • Thermal Energy Conversion Branch
  • Dynamic Power Convertors
  • Advantages of Dynamic Power Conversion
  • ASRG Cancellation
  • Conversion Efficiency
  • Atmospheric Compositions
  • Temperature Limits
  • Vibrations
  • Robustness
  • RFPs
  • American Superconductor
  • Creare LLC
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Sunpower Inc.
  • Path to Flight
  • Reliability Analyses
  • Validation

ORGANIZATION AND COMPANY PROFILES

(Including: Contact Info, Overview, Organizational Structure, Activities, Programs, RPS, Projects, Plans, Operations, Leadership Position, Core Capabilities, Isotope Technologies, Reactors, Plutonium Production, Budgets, Nuclear Weapons, Pu-238 Project, GPHS-RTG, LWRHU, Ceramic, TA-55, Plutonium Pits, PF-4, Risks, Expansions, Field Centers, Research and Development Centers, Priority Goal, Constant Rate Production, Process Development, Process Optimization, Campaigns, ASRG, VCHP, Testing, Flight Design, Performance, Power Converters, Thermionics)

  • National Laboratories:
    • Glenn Research Center
    • Idaho National Laboratory
    • Los Alamos National Laboratory
    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Private Companies:
    • Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc.
    • Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc.
    • Lockheed Martin Corporation
    • Nanohmics Inc.
    • Teledyne Technologies Incorporated

FIGURES

  • 1. Expanded View of the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
  • 2. NASA RPS Mission History
  • 3. Plutonium-238 Supply Project-Radioisotope Power System Production Process Flowchart
  • 4. RPS Heat Source Supply and Mission Demand Balance Using CRP: 2014-2035
  • 5. RPS Pu-238 Fuel Clads
  • 6. Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator for the Curiosity Rover at Kennedy Space Center
  • 7. Power Source Selection in NASA's Lifecycle Review Process
  • 8. RPS Technology to System Roadmap
  • 9. RPS Decadal Planning Information Specifications
  • 10. Department of Energy and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Radioisotope Power Systems and Plutonium-238 Production Activities: 2011-2030
  • 11. Schematic Diagram of a Single RTG Thermocouple Connected to an Electric Load
  • 12. General Purpose Heat Source Module Parts
  • 13. MMRTG Configuration
  • 14. MMRTG F2
  • 15. eMMRTG Configuration Concept
  • 16. U.S. Department of Energy Plutonium-238 Supply Project
  • 17. Key Steps in Radioisotope Power System Production
  • 18. Plutonium-238 Synthesis
  • 19. Plutonium-238 Production
  • 20. Plutonium-238 Flowsheet
  • 21. Plutonium-238 Proposed Technology Comparison to Existing Processes and Areas Requiring Validation and Scale-Up
  • 22. Department of Energy and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Radioisotope Power Systems and Plutonium-238 Production Activities: 2011-2030
  • 23. New INL Neptunium Oxide Repackaging Glovebox
  • 24. Advanced Test Reactor and the High Flux Isotope Reactor to Produce Plutonium-238
  • 25. HFIR Irradiation Sites
  • 26. Design and Irradiation Focused on Development of Full Length Neptunium Target
  • 27. Examples of Stirling Convertor Development for Radioisotope Power Systems
  • 28. Flexure Isotope Stirling Convertor
  • 29. Turbo-Brayton Convertor and Generator
  • 30. Thermoacoustic Power Convertor and Generator
  • 31. Robust Stirling Convertor Generator
  • 32. ATR vs. Commercial Pressurized Water Reactor
  • 33. Cross-Section of the ATR
  • 34. DOE RPS Supply Chain
  • 35. 238PuO2 Pellet Glowing from Its Own Heat
  • 36. Model GPHS Module
  • 37. GPHS Fueled Clad
  • 38. Light Weight Radioisotope Heater Unit
  • 39. General Purpose Heat Source Module Assembly
  • 40. NASA Centers and Facilities
  • 41. NASA Four Major Themes
  • 42. NASA 2018 Strategic Plan Framework
  • 43. MMRTG Undergoing Acceptance Testing
  • 44. 238PU Process Diagram
  • 45. ASRG Backup Cooling Concept
  • 46. Stirling Convertor
  • 47. Stirling Hot End, VCHP Annulus and Heater Cylinder
  • 48. VCHP Installed
  • 49. VCHP Layout
  • 50. VCHP and Heat Cycling
  • 51. Mars 2020 Rover MMRTG
  • 52. Mars 2020 Rover Belly
  • 53. Mars 2020 Rover Belly
  • 54. LMT Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator
  • 55. Thermionic Converter
  • 56. Mars 2020 Rover MMRTG

TABLES

  • 1. NASA RPS Missions: 1969-2011
  • 2. Radioisotope Power System Funds by DOE and NASA and Program ($ Thousand): 2011-2020
  • 3. U.S. Plutonium-238 Production (Grams, $ Million): 2019-2024
  • 4. Decadal Survey Recommended Missions and Power Sources: 2013-2022
  • 5. Current and Potential Radioisotope Power Systems for Space Exploration
  • 6. MMRTG Performance Characteristics
  • 7. Nominal MMRTG Operating Characteristics
  • 8. Projected eMMRTG Performance Characteristics
  • 9. Nominal eMMRTG Operating Characteristics
  • 10. eMMRTG Project Schedule
  • 11. Possible Future RPS
  • 12. Dynamic Power Converter Performance Goals for Radioisotope Power Systems and Planetary Science
  • 13. Dynamic Power Converter Design Summary by Company
  • 14. Idaho National Lab Core Capabilities
  • 15. Idaho National Lab Budget by Programs and Elements: 2018-2020
  • 16. Los Alamos National Laboratory Budget by Programs and Elements: 2018-2020
  • 17. NASA Appropriations by Program: 2014-2019
  • 18. NASA Appropriations and Authorizations by Program: FY2019
  • 19. NASA Appropriations: 2020
  • 20. NASA Budget Requests: 2021-2024
  • 21. NASA Planetary Science Budget ($ Million): 2018-2024
  • 22. NASA Radioisotope Power Systems Budget ($ Million): 2018-2024
  • 23. NASA RPS Program Elements and Providers
  • 24. ORNL Radiochemical Engineering Development Center
  • 25. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Budget by Programs and Elements: 2018-2020
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