Radio Thermoelectric Generators

Recent news highlights a groundbreaking collaboration between ISRO and BARC in the development of Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs), a pivotal leap in the realm of space propulsion. These nuclear-powered engines hold the promise of revolutionizing deep space missions, overcoming limitations posed by chemical engines and solar power.

Unraveling the Potential of RTGs

Beyond the Ordinary: Nuclear-Powered Engines

  • RTGs represent a radical departure from conventional propulsion systems, harnessing the power of nuclear energy to drive spacecraft.

Overcoming Limitations for Deep Space Missions

  • The rationale behind RTGs stems from the constraints posed by chemical engines, which are not ideally suited for deep space exploration.
  • The distance of deep space makes solar power generation unviable due to diminishing sunlight intensity.

The Advantages of RTGs

Independence from Solar Proximity and Planetary Alignment

  • One of the standout benefits of RTGs is their independence from solar proximity and planetary alignment.
  • They eliminate the constraints of ‘launch windows’ associated with reliance on solar energy.

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Unveiling the Mechanics of RTGs

Harnessing Radioactive Materials

  • RTGs function through the utilization of radioactive materials, such as Plutonium-238 and Strontium-90.

Components of an RTG System

  • An RTG system comprises a radioisotope heater unit (RHU) and the RTG itself.
  • The heat generated by the radioactive decay is transferred to a thermocouple. copyright©

Generating Voltage for Propulsion

  • The thermocouple transforms the heat into voltage, which is then used to charge batteries.
  • The charged batteries subsequently serve as the motive force for the satellite.

Powering Spacecraft with RTGs: A Reality

Remarkable Achievements with RTGs

  • RTGs have already powered an array of US spacecrafts, including Voyager, Cassini, and Curiosity.


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