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Title: Radioisotope electric propulsion of sciencecraft to the outer Solar System and near-interstellar space

Abstract

Radioisotopes have been used successfully for more than 25 years to supply the heat for thermoelectric generators on various deep-space probes. Radioisotope electric propulsion (REP) systems have been proposed as low-thrust ion propulsion units based on radioisotope electric generators and ion thrusters. The perceived liability of radioisotope electric generators for ion propulsion is their high mass. Conventional radioisotope thermoelectric generators have a specific mass of about 200 kg/kW of electric power. Many development efforts have been undertaken with the aim of reducing the specific mass of radioisotope electric systems. Recent performance estimates suggest that specific masses of 50 kg/kW may be achievable with thermophotovoltaic and alkali metal thermal-to-electric conversion generators. Powerplants constructed from these near-term radioisotope electric generators and long-life ion thrusters will likely have specific masses in the range of 100 to 200 kg/kW of thrust power if development continues over the next decade. In earlier studies, it was concluded that flight times within the Solar System are indeed insensitive to reductions in the powerplant specific mass, and that a timely scientific program of robotic planetary rendezvous and near-interstellar space missions is enabled by primary electric propulsion once the powerplant specific mass is in the range of 100 tomore » 200 kg/kW. Flight times can be substantially reduced by using hybrid propulsion schemes that combine chemical propulsion, gravity assist, and electric propulsion. Hybrid schemes are further explored in this article to illustrate how the performance of REP is enhanced for Pluto rendezvous, heliopause orbiter, and gravitational lens missions.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Fermi National Accelerator Lab., Batavia, IL (US)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
20005593
DOE Contract Number:  
AC02-76CH03000
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Nuclear News
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 42; Journal Issue: 12; Other Information: PBD: Nov 1999; Journal ID: ISSN 0029-5574
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
07 ISOTOPE AND RADIATION SOURCE TECHNOLOGY; 30 DIRECT ENERGY CONVERSION; 42 ENGINEERING; RADIOISOTOPE HEAT SOURCES; THERMOELECTRIC GENERATORS; SPACECRAFT POWER SUPPLIES; ION THRUSTERS; THERMOPHOTOVOLTAIC CONVERTERS; SOLAR SYSTEM; STIRLING ENGINES; HYBRID SYSTEMS; NESDPS Office of Nuclear Energy Space and Defense Power Systems

Citation Formats

Noble, R J. Radioisotope electric propulsion of sciencecraft to the outer Solar System and near-interstellar space. United States: N. p., 1999. Web. doi:10.1016/S0094-5765(99)00048-X.
Noble, R J. Radioisotope electric propulsion of sciencecraft to the outer Solar System and near-interstellar space. United States. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0094-5765(99)00048-X
Noble, R J. Mon . "Radioisotope electric propulsion of sciencecraft to the outer Solar System and near-interstellar space". United States. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0094-5765(99)00048-X.
@article{osti_20005593,
title = {Radioisotope electric propulsion of sciencecraft to the outer Solar System and near-interstellar space},
author = {Noble, R J},
abstractNote = {Radioisotopes have been used successfully for more than 25 years to supply the heat for thermoelectric generators on various deep-space probes. Radioisotope electric propulsion (REP) systems have been proposed as low-thrust ion propulsion units based on radioisotope electric generators and ion thrusters. The perceived liability of radioisotope electric generators for ion propulsion is their high mass. Conventional radioisotope thermoelectric generators have a specific mass of about 200 kg/kW of electric power. Many development efforts have been undertaken with the aim of reducing the specific mass of radioisotope electric systems. Recent performance estimates suggest that specific masses of 50 kg/kW may be achievable with thermophotovoltaic and alkali metal thermal-to-electric conversion generators. Powerplants constructed from these near-term radioisotope electric generators and long-life ion thrusters will likely have specific masses in the range of 100 to 200 kg/kW of thrust power if development continues over the next decade. In earlier studies, it was concluded that flight times within the Solar System are indeed insensitive to reductions in the powerplant specific mass, and that a timely scientific program of robotic planetary rendezvous and near-interstellar space missions is enabled by primary electric propulsion once the powerplant specific mass is in the range of 100 to 200 kg/kW. Flight times can be substantially reduced by using hybrid propulsion schemes that combine chemical propulsion, gravity assist, and electric propulsion. Hybrid schemes are further explored in this article to illustrate how the performance of REP is enhanced for Pluto rendezvous, heliopause orbiter, and gravitational lens missions.},
doi = {10.1016/S0094-5765(99)00048-X},
url = {https://www.osti.gov/biblio/20005593}, journal = {Nuclear News},
issn = {0029-5574},
number = 12,
volume = 42,
place = {United States},
year = {1999},
month = {11}
}