Boeing to build power generator for Mars missions

Boeing has been named by the US Department of Energy to lead in the creation of a next-generation power system for future missions to the surface of Mars.

Boeing has been named by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to lead in the creation of a next-generation power system for future Mars surface missions and the exploration of deep space.

Boeing Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power in Canoga Park, California, is teamed with Teledyne Energy Systems to develop, qualify, and deliver electrical power generation systems for interplanetary missions and probes. The new compact power system, a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG), will reportedly provide unique in-space and planetary surface power capability.

Missions already targeted to use the new power system are the Mars Science Laboratory, a mobile laboratory rover that will be sent to Mars in 2009; an Outer Planets Probe set for launch in 2011; and the Mars Sample Return mission, planned for launch in 2013.

The MMRTG will supply electric power for mobility, data acquisition, and communication. It will have a 14-year design life, including three years on the surface of Mars.

According to Boeing, a flight version would be capable of generating power levels of about 110 watts by using a radioisotope heat source to drive thermoelectric power converters to create electric power.

Similarly, Boeing asserts that an MMRTG-powered rover will be able to land and go anywhere on the surface of Mars, from the polar caps to canyons, and will safely provide full power during night and day under all types of environmental conditions.

‘This next-generation MMRTG technology will be based on a proven heritage design that has been demonstrated by earlier efforts on the surface of Mars and in deep space,’ said Rich Rovang, program manager for the MMRTG team. ‘All of the Viking and Pioneer spacecrafts used Teledyne RTG design technologies,’ he said. ‘The RTG on Pioneer 10 operated over 30 years and over seven billion miles from Earth.’

Boeing Rocketdyne’s Power Systems group will lead the project and perform systems integration for a prototype system that would employ a non-nuclear heat source for local testing and systems demonstrations. For its part, Teledyne Energy Systems will supply a new series of thermoelectric generators and related technologies. The DOE will perform fuelling and final testing of the qualification and flight units.