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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.

This topic of “Radio Thermoelectric Generators” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

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.

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.

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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