India’s space agency, ISRO, is teaming up with Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) to jointly develop a nuclear-powered engine, reliable sources reveal.
The Need for Nuclear Engines
Chemical engines, commonly used in satellites, have limitations when it comes to deep space missions like interplanetary travel. These engines cannot carry sufficient fuel, and solar power is ineffective due to the lack of sunlight at long distances.
Radio Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs)
ISRO and BARC are focusing on the development of Radio Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). These generators utilize radioactive materials, such as Plutonium-238 or Strontium-90, which produce heat as they decay.
The nuclear engine consists of two main components:
- The radioisotope heater unit (RHU) that generates heat.
- The RTG that converts the generated heat into electricity.
The heat from the RHU is transferred to a thermocouple, which is a material that produces a voltage when a heat gradient is present. This voltage can be utilized to charge batteries, providing the necessary power for the satellite. ISRO aims to achieve a 5W RTG.
Advantages of RTGs
RTGs offer several advantages, including:
- Independence from solar proximity and planetary alignment.
- Reduction of constraints, such as launch windows, for scientists.
RTGs have been successfully used in US spacecraft like Voyager, Cassini, and Curiosity.
Source: Observer Research Foundation (ORF)