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Comparison of Energy Conversion Technologies for Space Nuclear Power SystemsA key element of space nuclear power systems is the energy conversion subsystem that converts the nuclear heat into electrical power. Nuclear systems provide a favorable option for missions that require long-duration power in hostile space environments where sunlight for solar power is absent or limited. There are two primary nuclear power technology options: (1) radioisotope power systems (RPSs) utilize the natural decay heat from 238Pu to generate electric power levels up to about 1 kW and (2) fission power systems (FPSs) rely on a sustained fission reaction of 235U and offer the potential to supply electric power from kilowatts to megawatts. Example missions utilizing nuclear power include Mars science rovers (e.g., Curiosity, Mars 2020), lunar and Mars surface landers, crewed surface outposts, deep space planetary orbiters, Ocean World science landers, and robotic space probes that utilize nuclear electric propulsion. This report examines the energy conversion technology options that can be used with RPSs and FPSs, and provides an assessment of their relative performance.
Document ID
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Lee S Mason
(Glenn Research Center Cleveland, Ohio, United States)
Date Acquired
January 16, 2020
Publication Date
December 1, 2019
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum(Cincinnati, OH)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: 600566.01.10.03
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Technical Review
Single Expert
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