European push for nuclear technology in space
11th june 2018
The European Space Agency (ESA) will host the international space and applications community in a workshop on 27-28 June to find out how best to prepare for the implementation of advanced radioisotope hybrid power systems. Here, Dr Markus Landgraf, architecture analyst in the Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration Programmes at the European Space Research and Technology Centre, or ESTEC, explains the potential for nuclear technology in future space exploration. ESTEC is the ESA’s main development and test centre for spacecraft and space technology.
There are places in the solar system that are cold and dark. Why is it that these are exactly the places scientists want to go? Well, for one: cold, dark environments promise to be well-preserved repositories of the past conditions of planets and minor bodies from the time when the solar system formed, as well as containing hidden treasures like samples of ancient solar activity or meteoroid impacts.
Exploring these regions requires missions with a long lifetime. Vehicles have to survive for a long time on planetary surfaces, astronauts require a consistent, robust source of heat and electrical power, and interplanetary spacecraft must work over decades travelling to the outer fringes of our solar system. What the future of sustainable space exploration and science requires is a new breed of power systems.