Radioisotope Power Systems: Past, Present and Future

Dr. Stephen Johnson
Idaho National laboratory
Space and Security Power Systems Facility

This talk will review the history of Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) from the late 1950’s to the present day and also address the newest systems currently under development for NASA applications.  The various isotopes considered and used for providing the heat, which is converted to electrical power, will be reviewed and the selection criteria that were applied for selection.  These power systems have provided, over the past five decades, a critical enabling technology that has powered NASA’s investigation of our solar system.  This technology has been used by NASA on over two dozen missions including the current Pluto New Horizons, launched in 2006 and expected to encounter Pluto in 2015.  The upcoming Mars Scientific Laboratory mission will have a new generation of power system and will be launched in late 2011 for the red planet.