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Deep space travel energy sources

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Exploration of the planets beyond Mars and their surroundings is already planned. Astronomy researchers are citing important information that can be obtained with instrumented spacecraft that fly beyond the planets of our solar system. Spacecraft flying these missions need power for performing their functions and communicating with Earth stations. Sunlight in these zones is so weak that alternative energy sources are needed. An alternative power source for deep-space missions is radioisotope heated energy converters.. The choice of heat-to-electric power conversion is narrowing to: 1) the Stirling engine; and 2) a combined cycle with thermionic and alkali-metal thermoelectric (AMTEC) heat-to-electricity conversion. For propulsion into deep space, a nuclear-reactor-heated AMTEC energy converter that powers ion engines can become the best alternative to hoisting tons of rockets into Earth orbit.

Published in:

Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:18 ,  Issue: 2 )

Date of Publication:

Feb 2003

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