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Mars 2020 Rover Nuclear Power Generator Enters Testing Stages

NASA is making big steps towards completing the next generation of Martian rovers. After announcing in March the start of the assembly process for the 2020 Mars mission rover, the agency is getting ready to take delivery of the machine's power plant.
Curiosity rover powered by an Aerojet generator 1 photo
Called Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), the reactor has been built by Aerojet Rocketdyne and Teledyne and has been sent this week to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to be fueled and tested.

The MMRTG is similar to the one used on the Curiosity rover, a machine that has been at it for over six years in the reddish Martian dust. MMRTG turns heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into the electricity that will power all of the rover’s systems.

The generator will stay for almost two years with the DOE, as it will be delivered to NASA for integration with the rover in the final weeks before launch. Aerojet built two such reactors, and the second will remain with the DOE in reserve for a future mission.

The company is also working on several other technologies for space exploration, including lithium-ion batteries for the International Space Station and the electrical power system for Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, a reusable lifting-body spaceplane designed to resupply the ISS.

The Mars 2020 rover will be launched in 2020 aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket. It will be used to prepare humanity for a possible manned trip to Mars by making geological assessments of its landing site, assessment of the habitability of the environment, searching for signs of ancient Martian life, and tracking natural resources and hazards.

Separately, it will also explore the surface of the planet, pick-up and store a set of samples in canisters placed in strategic areas, for a future mission to pick them up and bring them to Earth.

press release

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