Fuel for probes runs the risk of drying up, but the problem is solved

NASA's space agency is planning manyspace operations, the main role in which will be played by devices requiring jet fuel PU-238. It takes a lot of time to make it, so it’s extremely small in the reserves of the space agency - according to the latest calculations, only 35 kg are left. Given the fact that in the future the number of probe launches will only increase, there is a great risk that the fuel will simply end. Fortunately, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory has automated key production stages, and the fuel will at least stop diminishing.

Researchers claim that by 2025 theywill produce about 1.5 kg PU-238 per year. Fuel is needed to power the RTG radioisotope thermoelectric generators - with natural decay into uranium-234, the fuel produces 0.5 W of thermal energy. This energy is subsequently used to power the spacecraft.

PU-238 jet fuel has been actively used since the 1960s. It was used in more than 30 NASA spacecraft, including the famous Voyager and Cassini.

To create a PU-238 laboratory staffOak Ridge take neptunium-237 and turn it into neptunium oxide. Then it is mixed with aluminum and pressed into solid tablets. They are sent to a high-precision isotopic reactor, under the radiation of which the neptunium-237 turns into NP-238, which subsequently disintegrates into PU-238. The resulting tablet undergoes chemical treatment and is subsequently used as fuel.

Previously, the lab produced only 80fuel pellets per week, but an automated production line will increase their number to 275 units in 7 days. Automation refers to the execution of a piece of heavy manual work by automatic devices.

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