Space Exploration: DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges, Report to Congressional Requesters   [open pdf - 3MB]

"NASA uses RPS [radioisotope power systems] to generate electrical power in missions in which solar panels or batteries would be ineffective. RPS convert heat generated by the radioactive decay of Pu-238 into electricity. DOE [Department of Energy] maintains a capability to produce RPS for NASA missions, as well as a limited and aging supply of Pu-238 that will be depleted in the 2020s, according to NASA and DOE officials and documentation. With NASA funding, DOE initiated the Pu-238 Supply Project in 2011, with a goal of producing 1.5 kg of new Pu-238 per year by 2026. Without new Pu-238, future NASA missions requiring RPS are at risk. GAO [Government Accountability Office] was asked to review planned RPS and Pu-238 production to support future NASA missions. This report (1) describes how NASA selects RPS for missions and what factors affect RPS and Pu-238 demand; and (2) evaluates DOE's progress and challenges in meeting NASA's RPS and Pu-238 demand. GAO reviewed NASA mission planning and DOE program documents, visited two DOE national laboratories involved in making new Pu-238 or RPS work, and interviewed agency officials."

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Public Domain
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Government Accountability Office: http://www.gao.gov/
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