Areas of Research

The 2018 CSNR Summer Fellowship Program, June 4 through August 10, 2018, will the the 13th year of this intense, innovative exploration of applications of nuclear energy in space. Previous years have explored a variety of research topics such as mobile lunar base design, assessment of duel mode nuclear thermal rockets, advanced radioisotope power source design, and mapping the Asteroid Belt resources. Last year we focused our study topics on near-term challenges in the production and use of the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermo-electric Generator (MMRTG). We are continuing with that focus again this year.

The Fellows will work on one of these project teams:

Team 1 Iridium Alloy Modeling

The PuO2 pellets in a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) are contained in an iridium alloy clad to prevent the spread of contamination in the event of a launch or reentry accident. Thorium is contained in the alloy to prevent grain growth at high temperatures, but thorium can be trapped at the cladding surface as ThO2 if O2 is available. Oxygen is released or absorbed by changes in the stoichiometry of the plutonia pellets during processing. This project will model oxygen release and movement within the MMRTG and explore changes in processing.

Team 2 Plutonium-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 Plutonium-238. During the 2017 CSNR Summer Program, a team of Summer Fellows performed extensive neutronics modeling of Pu-238 production in the I-positions in the Advanced Test Reactor. Dosimetry experiments verify that modeling are being performed on the ATR-Critical facility (ATR-C) beginning in November 2017. This 2018 project will build on the 2017 modeling and the dosimetry experiments to provide a reasonable estimate of the Pu-238 production capability of the I-positions, based on neutronic, thermohydraulic and target design considerations.

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.