NASA Space Exploration Maimed due to Plutonium Shortage
NASA Space Exploration Maimed due to Plutonium Shortage – NASA, American Space Research Organisation is authorized to manage all space related mission starting from Satellite projection to deep Space Research. The space craft or artificial satellite requires energy or fuel to move round its axis continuously. Although these Space craft or Satellite uses solar power as energy to maintain all its activities on the Space. But when these solar energy creations are hindered due to certain reasons, the alternate energy to be used would be Plutonium radioisotope (Pu-238).
A plutonium-238 oxide is used as fuel to power Spacecraft bound for deep research on space. The radioisotope glows from its own heat. It is also called as nuclear battery due to its alternate use during solar power shortage. Plutonium 238 is stored in a ceramic form inside a protective cylindrical shell of graphite. The natural source of the isotope is from exploding stars having half life cycle of nearly 88 years.
Why do Space Researchers use Pu-238 Radioisotope?
There are two basic reasons behind the alternate use as Pu-238 as fuel in space craft’s explained below.
- When solar panels of spacecraft do not produce adequate power to run the electronic device.
- When dust storms in space interface in solar energy generation.
According to recent report by Government Accountability Office (GAO), NASA power to mount future missions may hinder due to shortage of plutonium-238 radioisotope. The same shortage was seen in 1988 when the US Department of Energy’s Savannah River Plant in South Carolina closed due to dwindling effect of Soviet Cold War. At that time US used to purchase plutonium from Russia. But in 2009 Russia stopped selling Pu-238 because its own stock was shrinking. In 2015 US government again stated producing plutonium at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But the initiation do not proved fruitful because they have only been able to produce about 100 gm of plutonium so far. In the meantime, the US supply has dwindled to only 35 kgs, out of which 17 kgs meet the Spacecraft specification. But some spacecraft power systems require about 3.4 kg of Plutonium, which can empty the stock in less time. So NASA need to find a way to boost its production level.