What is an isotope generator?

A radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG, RITEG) is a type of nuclear battery that uses an array of thermocouples to convert the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material into electricity by the Seebeck effect. This type of generator has no moving parts.

How does an isotope generator work?

A radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG, uses the fact that radioactive materials (such as plutonium) generate heat as they decay into non-radioactive materials. The heat used is converted into electricity by an array of thermocouples which then power the spacecraft.

How long does a radioisotope thermoelectric generator last?

14 years
Currently, a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG, the RTG on the Curiosity rover) weighs 35.5 kilograms and has a life expectancy of 14 years. RTGs produce low neutron, beta, and gamma radiation compared to reactors.

Is an RTG real?

Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) are lightweight, compact spacecraft power systems that are extraordinarily reliable. RTGs provide electrical power using heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238, in the form of plutonium dioxide.

Can RTGs explode?

Given that they are the only reasonable way to power satellites beyond the orbit of Mars (as solar panels stop becoming effective), RTGs are necessary. Thus, NASA engineers strive to make them the safest, most indestructible parts of a spacecraft. RTG’s can not explode like a nuclear weapon.

What does NASA use plutonium for?

electrical power
Radioisotope power systems convert heat from the natural radioactive decay of the isotope plutonium-238 (used in a ceramic form of plutonium oxide) into electrical power to operate the computers, science instruments, and other hardware aboard NASA missions such as the Curiosity rover on Mars and the New Horizons …

Are RTG safe?

Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG’s) have proven to be safe, reliable, maintenance-free, and capable of providing both thermal and electrical power for decades under the harsh environments of deep space.

How much does an RTG cost?

As noted below, the cost estimated General Purpose Heat Source (GPHS) RTG costs range from $65M-$90M, depending on the exact delivery option. For these studies, the cost of the GPHS RTG was taken as $65M. This cost is therefore considered at the lower end of the likely RTG costs.

Why is plutonium Orange?

Plutonium glows in the dark, but not because it’s radioactive. The element is pyrophoric, which means it essentially burns in air. A chunk of plutonium in air glows reddish orange, like an ember. Unlike most metals, plutonium is a fire hazard.

Is plutonium explosive?

Once separated chemically from the rest of the irradiated fuel, plutonium is a powerful nuclear explosive. In 1945 it devastated Nagasaki. Since then, it has become the backbone of the world’s nuclear arsenals. Plutonium is the primary explosive in nuclear warheads and in most other nuclear weapons.

Does plutonium glow in the dark?

radioactive elements do not glow in any color you can see. On the other hand, there are radioactive elements that impart energy to nearby phosphorescent or fluorescent materials and thus appear to glow. If you saw plutonium, for example, it might appear to glow red.