Posted Aug. 26, 2013
This 3D animation shows the main components of the next generation of nuclear generators being developed to provide power for some NASA missions that explore the solar system. The ASRG -- or Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator -- is a new type of RPS that is being developed by NASA and the Department of Energy. Like a more traditional RTG (or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator), the ASRG converts heat energy to electricity, but it has moving parts.
Inside the device, a moving piston is driven by a difference in temperature between the heat of a nuclear fuel source and the coldness of space or a planetary atmosphere. The piston moves a magnet back and forth through a coil of wire more than 100 times per second to generate electrical current in the wire. To prevent physical wear, the piston is suspended in a helium gas bearing, meaning it does not actually touch the inside of the mechanism.
In addition to power for spacecraft, excess heat from the generator can be used to keep spacecraft systems warm enough to complete mission objectives.
More about the ASRG >