Scientists at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated the production of a radioisotope fuel that will work to power spacecraft intended for future deep space missions.
ORNL researchers produced 50 grams of plutonium-238 through a project funded by NASA, DOE said Tuesday.
DOE will use the plutonium-238 on radioisotope power systems that work to supply power to space vehicles.
“Radioisotope power systems are a key tool to power the next generation of planetary orbiters, landers and rovers in our quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator at NASA’s science mission directorate.
NASA and DOE plan to increase the production of the radioisotope fuel per year as they work to fabricate fuel pellets for the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator of the Mars 2020 rover.
The space agency plans to launch the rover as part of the Journey to Mars mission.