Future Space Missions Light Up with Rare Chemical Element, Americium
INDUSTRY NEWS | 4 MIN READ
A team of scientists led by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in the UK have generated electricity from a rare chemical element that has been derived from plutonium.
The electricity it generates could power future space missions for up to 400 years.
Watch the video to find out more.
A team of scientists led by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in the UK have generated electricity from a rare chemical element that has been derived from plutonium, called americium. The electricity it generates could power future space missions for up to 400 years.
The scientists have partnered with Leicester University to extract americium from the UK’s plutonium stockpile. They used the generated heat from this highly radioactive material to generate an electric current which was able to light up a small lightbulb within a special shielded area in NNL’s Central Laboratory in Cumbria.
The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has stated that americium could be used to power systems for space missions which would use the heat from americium pellets to power spacecraft heading into deep space or to challenging environments on planet surfaces where other power sources, such as solar panels, no longer function.A huge benefit of this would be that space missions would be able to continue sending images and data to Earth for longer than would otherwise be possible.
Tim Tinsley, NNL’s account director for the project, said:
“Seeing this lightbulb lit is the culmination of a huge amount of specialist technical work carried out by the teams from NNL and Leicester, working in collaboration with other organisations such as ESA and UK Space Agency.”
“Leicester University’s capability in the development of the radioisotope power systems was complimented by NNL’s expertise in handling and processing americium in our… lab facilities. It is great to think that americium can be used in this way, recycling something that is a waste from one industry into a significant asset in another.”
Watch the video
Keith Stephenson, ESA programme lead added:
“The unrivalled energy density of nuclear power sources enables a whole range of missions that would be otherwise impossible. This successful collaboration between the nuclear and space sectors has created a brand-new capability for Europe and opens the door to a future of ambitious and exciting exploration of our solar system.”
The technical programme to deliver this world first has been running for several years, supported by funding from the government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department through the UK Space Agency and its ongoing participation in European Space Agency (ESA) programmes.
(Image and video sourced via UKNNL)