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Status of the NASA Stirling Radioisotope ProjectFree-piston Stirling power conversion has been considered a candidate for radioisotope power systems for space for more than a decade. Prior to the free-piston Stirling architecture, systems were designed with kinematic Stirling engines that used linkages and rotary alternators to convert heat to electricity. These systems were able to achieve long life by lightly loading the linkages; however, the live was nonetheless limited. When the free-piston configuration was initially proposed, it was thought to be attractive due to the relatively high conversion efficiency, acceptable mass, and the potential for long life and high reliability based on wear-free operation. These features have consistently been recognized by teams that have studied technology options for radioisotope space power systems. Since free-piston Stirling power conversion was first considered for space power applications, there have been major advances in three general areas of development: hardware that has demonstrated long-life and reliability, the success achieved by Stirling cryocoolers in space, and the overall developmental maturity of the technology for both space and terrestrial applications. Based on these advances, free-piston Stirling convertors are currently being developed for space power, and for a number of terrestrial applications. They commonly operate with the power, efficiency, life, and reliability as intended, and much of the development now centers on system integration. This paper will summarize the accomplishments of free-piston Stirling power conversion technology over the past decade, review the status of development with regard to space power, and discuss the challenges that remain.
Document ID
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Schreiber, Jeffrey G.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
May 1, 2007
Subject Category
Mechanical Engineering
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
International Stirling Forum 2006(Osnabruck)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 138494.04.01.01
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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