Feeds

Budget decay kills NASA plutonium drive project

Hopes for speedy solar system shutttle recede

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The next step in data security

Budget cuts have forced NASA to mothball its Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG), a power plant designed to help the agency run projects to the outer planets.

The ASRG was a decade-long development project designed to get the most out of space craft using plutonium-238 as fuel in applications where solar power won't work.

Current plutonium-powered craft use relatively inefficient thermoelectric generators. The ASRG development work was based on stirling engines which NASA said produced electricity at four times the efficiency of the older engines. This, in turn, would preserve its reserves of plutonium-238, which is produced in very low amounts.

NASA had initiated the ASRG effort to preserve plutonium-238, but in this statement, planetary science division director James Green announced the termination of the program:

“With an adequate supply of Pu-238, and considering the current budget-constrained environment, NASA has decided to discontinue procurement of ASRG flight hardware. We have given direction to the Department of Energy, which manages the flight procurement, 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.”

However, as Casey Drier of the Planetary Society explains, NASA's current output of Pu-238 is so low that it would take as much as 11 years to fuel a project like New Horizons, now approaching Pluto after a flight that started in 2006.

Drier's fear is that falling back to the less efficient thermocouple-based generator will constrain the number of outer-planet missions NASA is able to launch. A NASA animation describing the ASRG technology is below. ®

Watch Video

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.