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Lunar Surface Stirling Power Systems Using Am-241For many years NASA has used the decay of Pu-238 (in the form of the General Purpose Heat Source (GPHS)) as a heat source for Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG), which have provided electrical power for many NASA missions. While RTG's have an impressive reliability record for the missions in which they have been used, their relatively low thermal to electric conversion efficiency (-5% efficiency) and the scarcity of Plutoinium-238 (Pu-238) has led NASA to consider other power conversion technologies. NASA is considering returning both robotic and human missions to the lunar surface and, because of the long lunar nights (14 earth days) isotope power systems are an attractive candidate to generate electrical power. NASA is currently developing the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG) as a candidate higher efficiency power system that produces greater than 160 watts with 2 GPHS modules at the beginning of life (BOL) (-30% efficiency). The ASRG uses the same Pu-238 GPHS modules, which are used in RTG, but by coupling them to a Stirling convertor provides a 4-fold reduction in the number of GPHS modules. This study considers the use of Americium 241 (Am-241) as a substitute for the Pu-238 in Stirling convertor based Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) for power levels from 1 O's of watts to 5 kWe. The Am-241 is used as a replacement for the Pu-238 in GPHS modules. Depending on power level, different Stirling heat input and removal systems are modeled. It was found that substituting Am-241 GPHS modules into the ASRG reduces power output by about 1/5 while maintaining approximately the same system mass. In order to obtain the nominal 160 watts electrical output of the Pu-238 ASRG requires 10 Am-241 GPHS modules. Higher power systems require changing from conductive coupling heat input and removal from the Stirling convertor to either pumped loops or heat pipes. Liquid metal pumped loops are considered as the primary heat transportation on the hot end and water pumped loop/heat pipe radiator is considered for the heat rejection side for power levels above 1 kWe.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Schmitz, Paul C.
(Power Computing Solutions, Inc. OH, United States)
Penswick, L. Barry
(Sest, Inc. Cleveland, OH, United States)
Shaltens, Richard K.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
August 26, 2013
Publication Date
August 2, 2009
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Meeting Information
7th International Energy Conversion and Engineering Conference (IECEC 2009)(Denver, CO)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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