Military Embedded Systems

Radioisotope power systems for deep-space missions ordered from Aerojet Rocketdyne


February 12, 2021

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

The Curiosity rover took this self-portrait on Mars that includes its MMRTG electrical power source (the white cylinder with radiator fins, at the rear of the rover). NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS photo.

LOS ANGELES. Aerojet Rocketdyne recently received a contract award to deliver up to two multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generators (MMRTG) -- radioisotope power systems that have been used as reliable electrical power sources on multiple deep-space missions -- to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for use in future planetary science missions.

According to a news release from Aerojet Rocketdyne about the award, the MMRTG produces dependable electrical power by converting the heat from plutonium 238 radioactive decay into electricity. Company officials say that a single MMRTG unit can provide long-lasting electrical power to a spacecraft or planetary rover, enabling exploration of the deepest corners of the solar system, where the great distance from the sun dramatically reduces the effectiveness of solar arrays that might be used to harness power.

An MMRTG is in use on NASA's Perseverance Rover, which will land on Mars on February 18, 2021; the MMRTG has also been chosen to power NASA’s Dragonfly mission to explore Saturn’s moon Titan, and is under consideration for the Trident mission to explore Neptune’s largest moon Triton, which has a proposed launch date of October 2025.

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