Space & Security Power Systems Facility
INL's Space & Security Power Systems Facility is the manufacture point for radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used to provide heat and electric power for deep space exploration and national security purposes. Located at the Materials & Fuels Complex, work at the SSPSF is expected to grow considerably over the coming decade. From $18 million in 2005, it could reach $70 million by 2015.
The Department of Energy has recently moved to consolidate the manufacture and assembly of these nuclear powered long-life batteries, and INL is the location of choice. Space exploration missions require safe, reliable, long-lived power systems to provide electricity and heat to the spacecraft and its science instruments. The RTG is a uniquely capable power source - essentially a nuclear battery that reliably converts heat into electricity. As space missions go further from the sun, RTGs are more necessary; solar arrays cannot provide power because the sun's rays become too weak.
RTGs consist of two major elements: a heat source that contains plutonium-238 dioxide and a set of solid-state thermocouples that convert the plutonium's heat to electricity. The Department of Energy and NASA are developing a new generation of space battery that could be used for a variety of space missions. Designated a Multi-Mission RTG (MMRTG), it is being designed to operate on planets such as Mars, as well as in the vacuum of space. It will optimize power levels over a minimum battery life of 14 years, and minimize weight in a design that optimizes safety.