NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Gets Plutonium Power Source Installed for July 30 Liftoff

The electricity needed to operate NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is provided by a power system called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG. The MMRTG will be inserted into the aft end of the rover between the panels with gold tubing visible at the rear, which are called heat exchangers. Essentially a nuclear battery, an MMRTG uses the heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to generate about 110 watts of electricity at the start of a mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL –  NASA’s next mission to the Red Planet the $2.7 Billion Mars 2020 Perseverance rover now has the nuclear power it needs to explore for many years to come – and the liftoff is targeted for July 30 from the Florida Space Coast is now just days away.

The plutonium based power source that gives life to the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and is the only means of keeping it alive was installed this week while the rover rested atop the mighty United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that will propel to the Red Planet.

The Perseverance rover nuclear power system is called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) and it is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The MMRTG is essentially a nuclear battery that uses the heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to generate about 110 watts of electricity at the start of a mission and slowly declines over time.

This MMRTG unit is virtually identical to the one already powering NASA sister rover Curiosity which was launched in 2011 and landed at Gale Crater in 2012 and has been functioning perfectly ever since.

The MMRTG nuclear power source battery like the one that will power Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is seen at center in this Curiosity Mars rover mosaic stitched from Navcam raw images by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo. Curiosity snaps a dramatic selfie at the ‘Torridon’ quadrangle while making long stretches of wheel tracks exploring assorted rock layers, bedrock outcrops and mineral exposures around Vera Rubin Ridge with an exquisitely sharp view of the distant rim of the Gale Crater landing site visible in the background on the Red Planet. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched and colorized by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo using raw images taken on Sol 1896, Dec. 6, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo/SpaceUpClose.com

Confirmation of the successful MMRTG installation came from ULA CEO Tory Bruno by tweet.

“The #MarsPerseverance MMRTG is installed and doing well,” Tory Bruno tweeted on Wednesday, July 22.

“This Red Planet dune buggy is fueled and ready to go!”

 

Solar power like that used on NASA’s earlier Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity is totally insufficient to carry out the ambition science mission planned for the 1 ton Perseverance and Curiosity MSL rovers.

Overall the MMRTG unit has with a mass of 99 pounds (45 kg).

The MMRTG fuel source comes in the form of plutonium dioxide (PtO2) powder with a mass of 10.6 pounds (4.8 kg) that is contained within canisters.

The electricity for NASA’s Mars 2020 Persererance rover is provided by a power system called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG. Essentially a nuclear battery, an MMRTG uses the heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to generate about 110 watts of electricity at the start of a mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

The PtO2 canisters are hardened to resist any explosion that might occur in case of a rocket launch failure  and keep the extremely toxic and deadly material completely contained with no leakage and no contamination to the outside world and environment.

The MMRTG is intentionally the last piece of hardware to be installed on the rover by design.

Furthermore the installation work is done out at the Atlas launch pad 41 complex to keep it protected and minimize exposure.

A joint team from NASA, JPL and DOE carried out the work.

The nose cone containing NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is maneuvered into place atop its Atlas V rocket. The image was taken at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020. Credits: NASA/KSC

With the rover already encapsulated inside the nose cone and bolted atop the Atlas V rocket, a team of technicians wheeled the MMRTG up to the nose cone

 

Then they open portholes on the side of the payload fairing and the aeroshell to gain access to Perseverance and load the MMRTG onto the aft holder on the back of Perseverance.

Because it generates significant heat sitting inside the sealed payload fairing active cooling is required to keep the internal temperature under control under climate controlled conditions to prevent any damage to the rover and the rocket hardware.

Heat generated from the natural decay of plutonium-238 will be converted to a steady flow of about 110 watts of electricity.

The MMRTG is equipped with “fins” that radiate excess heat.

Two lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are available to meet peak demands of rover activities when the demand temporarily exceeds the MMRTG’s electrical output levels.

The MMRTG is expected to afford Perseverance an overall 14-year operational lifetime.

Curiosity has already been operating with her MMRTG for 9 years.

The payload fairing, or nose cone, containing the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover sits atop the motorized payload transporter that will carry it to Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The image was taken on July 7, 2020. Credits: NASA/KSC

Earlier this month NASA’s $2.7 Billion Perseverance Mars rover was at last joined to the top of the mighty United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that will hurl it from our Home Planet to the Red Planet as soon as the end of this month – on a breathtaking mission dedicated to the search for signs of life beyond Earth.

The car-sized Perseverance Mars 2020 rover is targeted for liftoff on NET 30 July 2020 at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The approximately month-long launch window for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission currently extends until August 15.

 

Watch my commentary about all the Mars 2020 missions Perseverance, Hope and Tianwen-1 missions including my Mars rover mosaics and outreach during an interview with WKMG CBS 6 Orlando TV news on July 23:

https://www.clickorlando.com/news/2020/07/23/nasa-is-prepared-for-the-risks-of-launching-nuclear-powered-rover/

Watch my earlier commentary about the impact of the launch delays at Fox 35 TV News Orlando on July 3:

https://www.fox35orlando.com/video/736211

Watch my live post ULA Atlas V WDR  interview about Mars 2020 rover and more  at the American Space Museum ‘Stay Curious’ daily weekday show on June 22, 2020

Space Journalist Dr. Ken Kremer joins "Stay Curious"

Update on Artemis to the Moon with space journalist/photographer Dr. Ken Kremer to help you "Stay Curious."

Posted by American Space Museum & Space Walk of Fame on Monday, June 22, 2020

 

Watch my July 2 interview on Pressing For Flight about Mars 2020, COVID-19, Artemis, SpaceX GPS/.Starlink and More:

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Mars 2020, Commercial Crew and Artemis for live reporting of upcoming and recent NASA, ULA and SpaceX launches including Crew-1, Demo-2, Starlink, X-37B, Solar Orbiter and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

Ken has created hundreds of widely published Mars rover mosaics and lectures also about NASA’s Mars rovers

Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jul 28, 29 – 7 PM: Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL. “NASA/ULA Atlas V Mars 2020 rover and SpaceX Crew-1, Demo-2, GPS, Starlink, Anasis-II and more launches.” Free. In hotel lobby. Photos for sale

 

These Curiosity rover mosaics created by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo also show the MMRTG and radiating fins on Mars. The MMRTG is virtually identical to the new one installed on NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launching July 30, 2020 on ULA Atlas V.  Credit: Ken Kremer. Screenshot from CBS 6 TV news story July 23, 2020

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Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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