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Energizing Deep Space Exploration: New Automation Process

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Radioisotope Energy System for the Curiosity Rover at Kennedy House Heart.
Credit score: NASA


An automation course of is geared to resolving a key bottleneck in boosting the annual manufacturing of Pu-238 towards NASA’s purpose of 1.5 kilograms of Pu-238 per 12 months by 2025.

Oak Ridge Nationwide Laboratory in jap Tennessee, close to Knoxville, is automating the manufacturing of neptunium oxide-aluminum pellets.


Pu-238 gives a relentless warmth supply via radioactive decay, a course of that has powered spacecraft resembling NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and past, the Cassini mission to Saturn and the Curiosity Mars Rover.

Nuclear energy system is proven on this Curiosity Navcam Left A photograph taken on Sol 2297, January 22, 2019.
Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Upping yearly manufacturing

“Automating a part of the Pu-238 manufacturing course of helps push annual manufacturing from 50 grams to 400 grams, transferring nearer to NASA’s purpose of 1.5 kilograms per 12 months by 2025,” stated ORNL’s Bob Wham.

Artist’s idea of the nuclear powered New Horizons spacecraft encountering Pluto and its largest moon, Charon (foreground) in July 2015.
Credit score: NASA/Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory/Southwest Analysis Institute/Steve Gribben/Alex Parker

Wham provides that the automation tactic is anticipated to extend the output of pressed pellets from 80 to 275 per week.

Oak Ridge Nationwide Laboratory scientists have automated a part of the method of manufacturing plutonium-238, which is utilized by NASA to gasoline deep area exploration. Credit score: Genevieve Martin and Jenny Woodbery/Oak Ridge Nationwide Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Vitality



As soon as the pellets are pressed and enclosed in aluminum tubing, they’re irradiated at ORNL’s Excessive Flux Isotope Reactor and chemically processed into Pu-238 on the Radiochemical Engineering Growth Heart.

In 2012, NASA reached an settlement with the Division of Vitality to restart manufacturing of Pu-238, and ORNL was chosen to guide the undertaking.





Go to this ORNL video at:


in addition to the video on New Horizons beneath:

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