NASA Halts Work on its New Nuclear Generator for Deep Space Exploration
by DAVID DICKINSON on NOVEMBER 21, 2013
Another blow was dealt to deep space exploration this past weekend. The announcement comes from Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director. The statement outlines some key changes in NASA’s radioisotope program, and will have implications for the future exploration of the outer solar system.
We’ve written about the impending plutonium shortage and what it means for the future of spaceflight, as well as the recent restart of plutonium production. NASA is the only space agency that has conducted missions to the outer planets — even the European Space Agency’s Huygens lander had to hitch a ride with Cassini to get to Titan — and plutonium made this exploration possible.
Probably the most troubling aspect of the announcement is the discontinuation of procurement by NASA of flight hardware for what was to be NASA’s next generation nuclear power-source for exploration, the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator, or ASRG. This was to replace the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Generator, or MMRTG that has been in use on spacecraft for decades.
The announcement states:
“With an adequate supply of Pu-238… NASA has decided to discontinue procurement of ASRG flight hardware. We have given direction to the Department of Energy… to end work on the flight units. The hardware procured under this activity will be transferred to the Glenn Research Center to continue development and testing of the Stirling technology.”
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