NASA Funds Research into Extrasolar Object Interceptor and Sample Return Technology

Artist’s depiction of the Extrasolar Object Interceptor (Credits: Christopher Morrison)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Extrasolar Object Interceptor and Sample Return Enabled by Compact, Ultra Power Dense Radioisotope Batteries
Christopher Morrison
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation – Space (USNC-Space)
Seattle, Wash.

Synopsis

USNC-Tech is proposing a compact 20 kWe, 500 kg dry mass, radioisotope-electric-propulsion spacecraft design powered by a novel Chargeable Atomic Battery (CAB) that is capable of ∆Vs on the order of 100 km/s with a power system specific mass of 5-8 kg/kWe. A spacecraft powered by this technology will be able to catch up to an extrasolar object, collect a sample, and return to earth within a 10-year timeframe.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Receives Contract for up to Two More MMRTGS for Future Deep Space Exploration Missions

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Perseverance Rover. Perseverance’s power source, a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, is visible at the aft end of the rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Feb. 12, 2021 – Aerojet Rocketdyne recently received a contract award to deliver up to two Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTG) to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for use in future planetary science missions. MMRTGs are radioisotope power systems that have been used as reliable electrical power sources on multiple deep space missions, including NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which will land on Mars on Feb. 18.

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GAO Report Raises Concern About Plutonium-238 for Deep Space Missions

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today announced the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on U.S. production of plutonium 238 (Pu-238), a critical component of certain spacecraft power systems. GAO recommended that the Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees production of Pu-238, undertake steps to ensure production meets NASA’s needs for future missions.

Chairman Smith: “Assessing NASA’s needs and DOE’s capabilities is important for planning future missions. GAO issued three recommendations to DOE, all of which DOE indicated they would immediately implement. We will monitor DOE’s action and hope they will enable NASA to complete future missions.”
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ORNL Achieves Milestone with Plutonium-238 Sample

By producing 50 grams of plutonium-238, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have demonstrated the nation’s ability to provide a valuable energy source for deep space missions. (Credit: ORNL)
By producing 50 grams of plutonium-238, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have demonstrated the nation’s ability to provide a valuable energy source for deep space missions. (Credit: ORNL)

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 22, 2015 (ORNL PR) – With the production of 50 grams of plutonium-238, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have restored a U.S. capability dormant for nearly 30 years and set the course to provide power for NASA and other missions.

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