Boeing has been picked by the
Department of Energy (DoE) to lead in the creation of a
next-generation power system for future Mars surface missions and
the exploration of deep space.
Boeing Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power (Canoga Park, CA), is
teamed with Teledyne Energy Systems, Inc. to develop, qualify, and
deliver electrical power generation systems for interplanetary
missions and probes. The new compact power system, a multi-mission
radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG), will provide unique
in-space and planetary surface power capability.
Missions already targeted to use the new power system are the
Mars Science Laboratory, a mobile laboratory rover that will be
sent to the Red Planet in 2009; an Outer Planets Probe set for
launch in 2011; and the Mars Sample Return mission, planned for
launch in 2013.
The MMRTG will supply electric power for mobility, data
acquisition, and communication. It will have a 14-year design life,
including three years on the surface of Mars.
A flight version would be capable of generating power levels of
about 110 watts by using a radioisotope heat source to drive
thermoelectric power converters to create electric power.
An MMRTG-powered rover will be able to land and go anywhere on
the surface of Mars, from the polar caps to deep, dark canyons, and
will safely provide full power during night and day under all types
of environmental conditions.
"This next-generation MMRTG technology will be based on a proven
heritage design that has been demonstrated by earlier efforts on
the surface of Mars and in deep space," said Rich Rovang, program
manager for the MMRTG team. "All of the Viking and Pioneer
spacecrafts used Teledyne RTG design technologies," he said. "The
RTG on Pioneer 10 operated over 30 years and over seven billion
miles from Earth."
Boeing Rocketdyne’s Power Systems group will lead the
project and perform systems integration for a prototype system that
would employ a non-nuclear heat source for local testing and
systems demonstrations. Teledyne Energy Systems will supply a new
series of thermoelectric generators and related technologies.
Fueling and final testing of the qualification and flight units
will be performed by the DOE.
Boeing Rocketdyne is also working several related technology
contracts that will eventually lead to even higher power and more
efficient systems to enable future deep space propulsion systems.
Implementation of these advanced propulsion systems could
dramatically shorten the times required to visit planets and their
moons and enable future missions to explore multiple destinations
in a single voyage. These technologies are part of NASA’s
Project Prometheus, which seeks to create new, more capable power
and propulsion systems.