Nuclear-powered Mars rover Curiosity lands safely

An image sent by NASA’s Curiosity rover shortly after landing

The nuclear-powered roving robotic laboratory Curiosity touched down early on August 6, and is beaming back images while undergoing system checks. The Curiosity landing has generated worldwide interest, including interest in its plutonium power source.

A short internet news roundup highlighting Curiosity‘s use of nuclear technology for its source of power:

Steve Aplin at the Canadian Energy Issues blog, in ”This educational moment brought to you by plutonium, and the end of the Cold War,” provides an excellent overview of Curiosity‘s radioisotope thermoelectric generator and its origins — in the end of the Cold War — and explains how Curiosity‘s successful landing is a triumph of cooperation between two former enemies.

Matt Wald at the New York Times Green BlogNuclear Pack Powers Rover on Mars” provides a succinct overview of the reasoning behind using a plutonium power source for Curiosity instead of solar.

At the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Notes,A Nuclear-Powered Space Rover Lands on Mars, Brings New Hope for Space Exploration” covers some of the far-reaching implications Curiosity’s mission has for the nuclear energy field — especially in space exploration.

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat inNASA Mars vehicle uses nuclear power source interviewed Stephen Johnson, director of Idaho National Laboratorys Space Nuclear Systems and Technology Division, about Curiosity shortly after launch.

From the mainstream press Los Angeles Times today, ”Mars rover draws on nuclear power for trek around Red Planet” outlines the role of Curiosity‘s radioisotope thermal generator, developed by engineers at Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Readers are referred to ANS Nuclear Cafe’s recent “Mars Rover Curiosity, A Nuclear Powered Mobile Laboratory” containing a NASA video featuring Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, explaining Curiosity‘s Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.

ANS contributor Wes Deason in “Plutonium in Space: Why and How?” delves into the advantages of using plutonium in radioisotope generators for space missions.

Shannon Bragg-Sitton of INL discusses nuclear space applications” and speaks at length about the Curiosity rover in this ANS Nuclear Cafe video shortly after the launch of the mission. Dr. Bragg-Sitton served as chair of the 2012 ANS Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space conference.

The Jet Propulsion Lab Mars Science Laboratory website provides Mars Science Laboratory mission background information and breaking news.

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2 Responses to Nuclear-powered Mars rover Curiosity lands safely

  1. There was a good question at the JPL Curiosity briefing this evening: Why are you waiting until daylight to do work with the rover when it’s got a round-the-clock nuclear power source?

    The answer, basically, was that there is only so much power per sol to work with – not enough for continuous active rover operation – and it makes sense to use that power during the day, and build up stored power in the battery in the night. The night among other challenges is cold, and extra power would be required from the limited budget, for example to warm up actuators. Of course, the night is also dark which would make imaging tricky.

  2. Great it’s in operation.