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OSTIblog Articles in the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator Topic

Powering Curiosity; Exploring New Horizons - DOE's MMRTG



DOE's RTG is doing it again. The Department's Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) is providing continuous power to the Mars rover Curiosity.  This radioactive power source is "essentially a nuclear battery that will operate the rover’s instruments, robotic arm, wheels, computers and radio. It is fueled with plutonium-238 that gives off heat as it naturally decays. No moving parts are required to convert this heat into electricity."1

The MMRTG "can go farther, travel to more places, and power and heat a larger and more capable scientific payload compared to the solar power alternative NASA studied. The radioisotope power system gives Curiosity the potential to be the longest-operating, farthest-traveling, most productive Mars surface mission in history." 1

With the Curiosity safely on Mars, it begins its mission to explore and investigate "whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and [to] preserve clues it finds in the rocks. Curiosity will analyze dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it explores with greater range than any previous Mars rover."1

"For 50 years, radioisotope power sources have safely and reliably fueled dozens of U.S. missions to explore seven planets in the solar system, including the [current] ...

Related Topics: Curiosity, Mars rover, MMRTG, New Horizons, Pluto, plutonium, Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, RTG, space battery, DOE Research & Development (R&D) Accomplishments