Thermoradiation cells will help in space exploration

(ORDO NEWS) — Space exploration is becoming more and more energy-intensive. Orbiters and flyby missions can perform their tasks using solar energy, at least as far as Jupiter.

And ion thrusters can deliver spacecraft to more distant regions. But to really study distant objects, like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, or even the more distant Pluto, we need to land a lander on them.

These missions require more power to operate. We could use the Multipurpose Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG).

But it is bulky, heavy and expensive. These are undesirable features for space vehicles. Is there a better solution?

Stephen Polley, a research fellow at the Rochester Institute of Technology, thinks so.

Polly is working on what could be a revolutionary way to power spacecraft on long journeys to the outer planets. This is a thermoradiation cell (TRC).

Polly uses Metal Organic Vapor Phase Epitaxy (MOVPE) technology. With its help, thin polycrystalline films are obtained. In her work, Polly uses MOVPE to create thermoradiation cells (TRCs).

“This device, powered by a radioisotope heat source, will allow an order of magnitude increase in mass specific power (~30 vs. ~3 W/kg) and a three order of magnitude reduction in volume (~ 0.2 vs. ~212 L) compared to conventional MMRTG Polly explained in a brief press release.

Polly writes that these devices could revolutionize our space exploration activities. They will enable the creation of smaller spacecraft that do not need to deploy large solar arrays or carry bulky, heavy MMRTGs.

“This will directly enable small-satellite missions to outer planets and permanent shadow operations, such as the study of polar lunar craters,” Polly explains.

Polly’s idea is the first round of selection for NASA‘s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. Polly received funding to further develop this project.

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