Space Agency NASA is planning many space operations, the main role in which to play devices that require jet fuel PU-238. It takes a lot of time, so the inventory space Agency of its very few — at last count, there were only 35 kg. given the fact that in the future the number of times probes will only increase, there is a large risk that the fuel will simply end. Fortunately, the national laboratory of oak ridge have automated key stages of manufacture, and fuel at least will cease to decrease.
The researchers say that by 2025 they will produce approximately 1.5 kg of PU-238 per year. Fuel you need to power radioisotope thermoelectric generators RTGs — if the natural decay in uranium-234, fuel produces 0.5 W of thermal energy. This energy is subsequently used to power spacecraft.
Jet fuel PU-238 is actively used since the 1960-ies. It was used in more than 30 spacecraft NASA, including the famous Voyager and Cassini.
To create PU-238 laboratory staff of oak ridge take neptunium-237 and turn it into oxide of neptunium. Then it is mixed with aluminum and pressed into a dense tablet. They travel to high-precision isotope reactor, under the radiation of which is the neptunium-237 is converted to NP-238, which then decays to PU-238. The resulting tablet is a chemical treatment and then used as fuel.
Previously, the laboratory produced only 80 pellets per week, but the automated production line will increase the number to 275 pieces in 7 days. Automation refers to the implementation of part of the heavy manual work by automatic devices.
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