Radioisotope Power Systems: Enabling Space Exploration

Kelly Lively
Department Manager, Radioisotope Power Systems
Idaho National Laboratory


Idaho National Laboratory’s, Space Nuclear Systems and Technology Division established the resources, equipment and facilities required to provide nuclear-fueled, Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) to Department of Energy (DOE) Customers.  RPSs are designed to convert the heat generated by decay of iridium clad, 238PuO2 fuel pellets into electricity that is used to power missions in remote, harsh environments.  Utilization of nuclear fuel requires adherence to governing regulations and the INL provides unique capabilities to safely fuel, test, store, transport and integrate RPSs to supply power—supporting mission needs.  Nuclear capabilities encompass RPS fueling, testing, handling, storing, transporting RPS nationally, and space vehicle integration.  Activities are performed at the INL and in remote locations such as John F. Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Station to support space missions.  This presentation will focus on the caties primarily offered at the INL, Material and Fuel Complex located in a security-protected, federally owned, industrial area on the remote desert site west of Idaho Falls, ID.  Two RPSs fueled and tested at the INL will be discussed:  Pluto-New Horizons Mission to fly by the Pluto-Charon System in July 2015 and continue travel on to the Kuiper Belt and Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, currently roving the Gale Crater on Mars.