About the Radioisotope Power Systems Program
The Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) Program is a technology development effort, managed by NASA, that is strategically investing in nuclear power technologies that would maintain NASA's current space science capabilities and enable future space exploration missions. NASA, working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), invests in research and development efforts to meet the energy needs of mission requiring RPS. NASA also works with DOE to maintain the capability to produce the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), which serves as the power source for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.
The program is designed to enable more capable future space missions by supporting the development of advanced technologies for power conversion using heat from the natural decay of plutonium-238. DOE owns the nuclear material and the nuclear power systems, and directly manages the design and development of all radioisotope power systems used by NASA.
The program also is developing and testing energy conversion technologies and systems that could enable or significantly enhance the effectiveness of future space science missions where radioisotope power systems may be required.
NASA's current investments in the RPS development program include researching new technologies to improve future systems, and performing mission studies.
The RPS Program is a multi-center effort, managed by NASA's Glenn Research Center (GRC) for NASA Headquarters, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). It reports to the leadership of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (Planetary Science Division) at NASA Headquarters.
GRC has decades of experience developing the Stirling converter technology that could be utilized by a dynamic power system. As part of its program management responsibilities, GRC leads program planning, financial and scheduling activities. JPL provides support for program planning and mission analysis, as well as continued research and development of thermoelectric technologies employed by radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs. JPL also supports launch approval engineering, which is concerned with engineering, communication and regulatory issues related to the safe launch of radioisotope power systems. APL supports the RPS program with mission and systems analyses.