INL Assists the Mars 2020 Rover

Idaho National Laboratory’s Space Nuclear Power and Isotope Technologies Division fuels and tests Radioisotope Power Systems at Idaho National Laboratory’s Materials and Fuels Complex, then delivers the systems for use in remote, harsh environments such as space. INL is working on the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) for NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission that will send a rover to the Red Planet. Generators fueled and tested at INL are currently powering the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover (launched in 2011) and Pluto New Horizons (launched in 2006). The power system on New Horizons was the first assembled and tested at INL.

2019-04-01 11:05:24

Plutonium-238

Clads of plutonium-238 placed into graphite components to form general purpose heat source modules.

2019-08-01 00:00:00

RTG Created

Completed modules placed inside the RTG.

2019-09-01 16:09:38

Acceptance Testing

The RTG undergoes a series of acceptance tests to ensure it will perform as designed. Vibration Testing Simulates launch conditions by mounting the RTG on a vibration table that creates proto-flight test environments in the X, Y & Z axis orientations. Mass Properties Testing the RTG’s center of gravity, mass and moments of inertia will affect how the rover moves. A mass properties rotation fixture measures the weight within +0.5% and the center of gravity within 1 cm. Thermal Vacuum Testing to simulate the vacuum of space, the RTG is placed in a chamber with a robust pumping system that can create a near-absolute vacuum to test the power performance.

2019-09-30 16:09:38

Vibration Testing

Vibration Testing Simulates launch conditions by mounting the RTG on a vibration table that creates proto-flight test environments in the X, Y & Z axis orientations.

2019-10-31 16:09:38

Mass Properties Testing

Mass Properties Testing the RTG’s center of gravity, mass and moments of inertia will affect how the rover moves. A mass properties rotation fixture measures the weight within +0.5% and the center of gravity within 1 cm.

2019-10-31 16:09:38

Thermal Vacuum Testing

Thermal Vacuum Testing to simulate the vacuum of space, the RTG is placed in a chamber with a robust pumping system that can create a near-absolute vacuum to test the power performance.

2020-03-01 21:48:16

Transport to Florida

Spring 2020 A specially designed truck transports the RTG from Idaho to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. A crew from INL’s Space Nuclear Power and Isotope Technologies Division monitors the RTG around the clock until launch.

2020-06-01 11:05:24

Nuclear Power System Delivered to Florida for NASA’s Perseverance Rover

2020-07-01 18:23:34

INL team heads to Kennedy Space Center

A crew from INL’s Space Nuclear Power and Isotope Technologies Division heads to Kennedy Space Center to install the MMRTG on the Mars 2020 rover and provide ground operations support leading up to and following launch.

2020-07-17 21:48:16

Window to Launch

The 20-day launch window opens for the Mars 2020 mission.

INL Assists the Mars 2020 Rover

Launch
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