Constant Rate Production: DOE Approach to Meeting NASA Needs for Radioisotope Power Systems for Nuclear-Enabled Launches
American Journal of Aerospace Engineering
Volume 5, Issue 2, December 2018, Pages: 63-70
Received: Sep. 10, 2018;
Accepted: Oct. 4, 2018;
Published: Oct. 23, 2018
Views 648 Downloads 59
Robert Michael Wham, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, USA
George Behrens Ulrich, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, USA
Jacquelyn Candelaria Lopez-Barlow, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, USA
Stephen Guy Johnson, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, USA
The use of radioisotope power systems (RPSs) for nuclear-enabled National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions is made possible through a long-standing arrangement between the Department of Energy (DOE) and NASA. The requirements for the power system come from NASA, but DOE performs the procurement, fueling, testing, and delivery. A challenge has been interplay between the schedule for RPS availability from DOE versus the schedule for competitively selected missions. By mutual agreement, the actual operations to procure an RPS and prepare it for fueling have always been delayed until the final selection of a mission. The timeline for a New Frontiers–class mission leaves approximately 5 to 6 years from the time of final mission selection to the actual launch date. The number of RPSs used for a New Frontiers–class mission can be one to three units. If one or two units are needed, the timeline from the decision point to the launch date is a challenge, but it is achievable. The activities taking place include manufacturing the power system, producing the fuel, and performing the assembly/testing and delivery operations. If the mission selected requires three RPSs, the logistics of accomplishing all activities during the 5–6 years is problematic. The challenge involves obtaining the necessary resources for plutonium production, heat source production, and assembly/testing operations. Typically, the time between RPS-enabled missions requires staffing reduction down to 65%–75% of peak staffing levels to reduce costs. Coupling the ~2 year duration needed for hiring, training, and obtaining the appropriate security clearances for the required staff with the requirement for the RPS to arrive at Kennedy Space Center 6 months before the launch erodes much of the 5–6 years available to comfortably support the use of three RPSs. To provide better support for NASA RPS missions, a different approach for the production of heat sources was devised—constant rate production. This involves a higher level of base capability at DOE national laboratories to provide a stabilized workforce. This will enable 10–15 heat sources to be produced annually and placed into a stable intermediate form to enable storage for up to several years leading to quick production of general purpose heat source modules when a mission is selected. The upfront production of 238Pu is maintained so material is constantly in the pipeline. Production of key specialized components is also maintained using this model.
Robert Michael Wham,
George Behrens Ulrich,
Jacquelyn Candelaria Lopez-Barlow,
Stephen Guy Johnson,
Constant Rate Production: DOE Approach to Meeting NASA Needs for Radioisotope Power Systems for Nuclear-Enabled Launches, American Journal of Aerospace Engineering.
Vol. 5, No. 2,
2018, pp. 63-70.
Atomic Power in Space II—A History of Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion in the United States, INL/EXT-15-34409, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID, September 2015.
Department of Energy, Report of an Investigation into the Deterioration of the Plutonium Fuel Form Fabrication Facility (PuFF) at the DOE Savannah River Site, DOE/NS-0002P, October 1991.
Department of Energy, Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Accomplishing Expanded Civilian Nuclear Energy Research and Development and Isotope Production Missions in the United States, Including the Role of the Fast Flux Test Facility, DOE/EIS 0310, 2000.
Record of Decision for the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Accomplishing Expanded Civilian Nuclear Energy Research and Development and Isotope Production Missions in the United States, Including the Role of the Fast Flux Test Facility, Federal Register, vol. 66, no. 18, January 26, 2001.
Amended Record of Decision for the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Accomplishing Expanded Civilian Nuclear Energy Research and Development and Isotope Production Missions in the United States, Including the Role of the Fast Flux Test Facility DOE-EIS-0310, Federal Register, vol. 69, no. 156, August 13, 2004.
Department of Energy, Start-up Plan for Plutonium-238 Production for Radioisotope Power Systems, Report to Congress, June 2010.
Witze, A, “Desperately seeking plutonium,” Nature, vol. 515, November 2014.
G. L. Bennett, J. J. Lombardo, R. J. Hemler, G. Silverman, C. W. Whitmore, W. R. Amos, E. W. Johnson, A. Schock, R. W. Zocher, T. K. Keenan, J. C. Hagan, and R. W. Englehart, “Mission of daring: The general-purpose heat source radioisotope thermoelectric generator,” AIAA-2006-4096, 4th International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference and Exhibit, San Diego, California, June 26–29, 2006.
R. L. Cataldo and G. L. Bennett. “U.S. space radioisotope power systems and applications: Past, present and future,” Radioisotopes—Applications in Physical Sciences, N. Singh (Ed.), 2011.
Wham, R., R. Onuschak, T. Sutliff, “Plutonium-238 supply project—Additional processing enabling power for future NASA missions, 2016 IEEE Aerospace Conference, March 2016.
Wham, R. M., L. K. Felker, E. D. Collins, D. E. Benker, R. S. Owens, R. W. Hobbs, D. Chandler, and R. J. Vedder, “The plutonium-238 supply project,” PBNC 2014, August 2014.
Wham, R. M., D. W. DePaoli, D. Benker, and L. H. Delmau, “Coordination of plutonium separations,” Trans. Am. Nucl. Soc., vol. 117, pp. 1325–1327.
Carver, N., J. Matonic, R. Jump, R. M. Wham, “New production of plutonium-238 oxide fuel: Chemical analysis,” INMM 2016, July 2016, pp. 1951.
Ohriner, E. K., “Processing of iridium and iridium alloys,” Platinum Metals Rev. vol. 52 no. 3, pp. 186, 2008.
Ulrich, G. B., “Iridium alloy clad vent set manufacturing qualification studies,” AIP Conference Proceedings, vol. 217, 1303, 1991.
Romanoski, G., K. Lach, A. Clark, N. Gallego, S. Adhikari, and G. B. Ulrich, “An investigation of the melt, flow, and cure behavior of phenolic resin during processing of carbon bonded carbon fiber insulation,” ANS NETS 2018, March 2018.
G. B. Ulrich, E. K. Ohriner, G. R. Romanoski, R. G. Miller, K. R. Veach Jr, B. R. Friske, E. P. George, “Heat source component production for radioisotope power systems,” Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Atlanta, GA, July 20–24, 2014.
J. G. Hemrick, Z. Burns, G. B. Ulrich, “Thermomechanical characterization and analysis of insulation materials for nuclear-based space power systems,” Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Atlanta, GA, July 20–24, 2014.
R. E. Tate, The Light Weight Radioisotope Heater Unit (LWRHU): A Technical Description of the Reference Design, LA-9078-MS. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, 1982.
T. G. George and T. A. Cull, “The light weight radioisotope heater unit (LWRHU): Development and application,” Space Nuclear Power Systems 1987, M. S. El-Genk and M. D. Hoover, Eds., Malabar, FL: Orbit Book Co., 1988.
Rinehart, G. H., Fabrication of Radioisotope Heat Sources for Space Missions, LA-UR-00-4157, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, 1991.
Harmon, B. A., W. A. Bohne, “A look back at assembly and test of the new horizons radioisotope power system,” AIP Conference Proceedings, vol. 880, pp. 339–346, 2007.
Rosenberg, K. E., S. G. Johnson, Assembly and Testing a Radioisotope Power System for the New Horizons Spacecraft, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID, INL/CON-06-11282, June 2006.
Davis, S. E., K. L. Lively, and K. J. Wahlquist, “The considerations of fueling and testing a dynamic RPS,” ANS NETS 2018, March 2018.