The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) said on 15 February that INL management and operating contractor Battelle Energy Alliance had announced the next step in designing a new power system for space exploration. The Dynamic Radioisotope Power System (RPS) will be designed for a potential lunar demonstration mission by the late 2020s. INL is partnering with NASA and DOE to seek industry engagement to further the design of this new system.

The goal of this technology demonstration project is to develop and demonstrate performance of a system that is three times more efficient than the current RPS technology. The Dynamic RPS will use heat released from the decay of plutonium-238 to create electricity for a spacecraft via dynamic power conversion. Dynamic power conversion is more efficient than thermoelectric conversion used in current systems such as the Mars Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. This increased system efficiency will allow a Dynamic RPS to produce the same amount of electric power with less plutonium-238, and extend radioisotope power to larger systems.

The next step of this project is to engage with space system integrator contractors to design system level concepts. Over the next seven years, the project will progress through additional phases to fabricate and qualify a Dynamic RPS for future science exploration missions, which could include small lunar experiments, rovers or small spacecraft.