Areas of Research

The 2017 Fellowships is the 12th year for the program.  Previous years have contained a variety of research topics  such as mobile lunar base design, assessment of dual mode nuclear thermal rockets, advanced radioisotope power source design, and mapping of the Asteroid Belt resources to name a few.  This year, the study topics will focus on near-term projects for use with Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermo-electric Generators (MMRTGs).  The Fellows will work on one of three teams:

Team 1: Putonium-238 Production

Eight of the nine NASA missions to the outer solar system and the Mars Science Laboratory have been powered by the man-made isotope Pu-238.  Since the stockpiles are being depleted, continued exploration of the outer planets will require further Pu-238 production via the irradiation of Np-237.  This project will explore innovative target irradiation options for the Advanced Test Reactor at INL through insights into the operative physics supported by neutronics calculations using MCNP or Serpent.

Team 2: MMRTG Modeling for Planetary Exploration

Develop a numerical work flow model for the process of fueling and testing Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTGs) for use in future Mars or outer planetary missions.  Explore optimization techniques to streamline the process and reduce costs.  Learn from experienced workers about the evolution of processes and past pitfalls

Team 3: MMRTG Material Investigation

Investigate an alternative high-temperature material to cradle the Pu-238 pellets in the MMRTG in place of the presently-used carbon-carbon composite material (Fine Weaved Pierced Fabric) which has become increasingly difficult to procure because of low demand and contraction of the supply-chain.   

During the summer, the Fellows will be asked to make short presentations of the results of their research and a final oral/written presentation to the laboratory management.