ABSTRACT

Space Exploration: Improved Planning and Communication Needed for Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production, Statement of Shelby S. Oakley, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Space, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, House of Representatives   [open pdf - 260KB]

"I am pleased to be here today to discuss our recent work on radioisotope power systems. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has long used radioisotope power systems (RPS) to generate reliable electrical power and heat energy for long-duration space missions. RPS can operate where solar panels or batteries would be ineffective or impossible to use, such as in deep space or in shadowed craters, by converting heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 (Pu-238) into electricity. The Department of Energy (DOE) and its predecessor agencies have been providing Pu-238 and fabricating RPS for NASA and other federal agencies for more than 5 decades. In 2011, with funding provided by NASA, DOE initiated the Pu-238 Supply Project (Supply Project) to reestablish the capability to domestically produce Pu-238. According to DOE documents and agency officials, DOE currently maintains about 35 kilograms (kg) of Pu-238 isotope designated for NASA missions, about half of which currently meets the power specifications for spaceflight. However, given NASA's current plans for solar system exploration, this supply could be exhausted within the next decade. Specifically, NASA plans to use about 3.5 kg of Pu-238 isotope for one RPS to power the Mars 2020 mission. NASA may also use an additional 10.5 kg of Pu-238 isotope for its New Frontiers #4 mission if three RPS are used. If DOE's existing Pu-238 supply is used for these two missions, NASA would be forced to eliminate or delay future missions requiring RPS until DOE produces or acquires more Pu-238."

Report Number:GAO-18-161T
Publisher:United States. Government Accountability Office
Date:2017-10-04
Copyright:Public Domain
Retrieved From:Government Accountability Office: http://www.gao.gov/
Format:pdf
Media Type:application/pdf
URL:/hsdldocs/full/2017/804743.pdf
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