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Space probe plutonium reserves running out

Posted on Monday, 23 September, 2013 | Comment icon 5 comments

Curiosity used up 10 pounds of the plutonium-238 supply. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The fuel needed to send space probes on missions to other planets could run out within ten years.
With the success of missions such as the Curiosity Mars rover, Cassini-Huygens and the legendary Voyager 1 which was reported to have left the solar system only last week, things would seem to be going very well in the field of interplanetary exploration. Scientists have warned however that all this could come to an abrupt halt within ten years because the fuel needed to power these missions, plutonium-238, is about to run out.

Plutonium is currently the only viable fuel for long-term deep space missions, neither solar power nor chemical batteries are sufficient. Plutonium-238 has only ever been produced as a byproduct in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, something that hasn't been happening for many years now. The result is a dwindling stockpile of plutonium that at the current rate will soon run out completely.

The US currently possesses about 36 pounds of plutonium-238 for scientific purposes and some missions, such as the Mars Curiosity rover, can use up to 10 pounds each.

Officials are currently working towards finding a way to reintroduce plutonium production before the supply runs out entirely, but it looks like it may take either extensive production or a completely alternative fuel source to keep deep-space exploration afloat much beyond the next decade.

Source: Wired | Comments (5)

Tags: Plutonium

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by ReaperS_ParadoX on 22 September, 2013, 18:15
Geeez I hope they can figure it out
Comment icon #2 Posted by seeder on 23 September, 2013, 13:08
Geeez I hope they can figure it out Hopefully they will find a way to continue though, fingers crossed anyway! But it is a surprising story that Id never thought Id hear
Comment icon #3 Posted by pallidin on 23 September, 2013, 19:08
Yeah, good article, especially if one does a full read. I didn't know half the stuff they discussed.
Comment icon #4 Posted by highdesert50 on 24 September, 2013, 12:04
Are we now feeling the weight of humanity? I have wondered when that time would come that resources become focused on simply sustaining the growing number of humans on this planet. Does a civilization have but a brief moment in time to explore and colonize regions beyond?
Comment icon #5 Posted by Sundew on 2 October, 2013, 11:36
Maybe Iran will sell us some, wink, wink. I remember when Cassini was launched, a local (liberal) college held a midnight cry-in/whine-a-thon because it was fueled with plutonium. Well, personally I have enjoy the photos of Saturn, but you can't please everyone.

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