Enhancing NASA's Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator Using Highly Efficient Thermoelectric Materials

  • Jeff Houtmann

Abstract

This project proposal aims to enhance NASA’s Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) by identifying and analyzing new material technologies that have been researched for their excellent thermoelectric properties at higher temperatures. By choosing the most efficient thermoelectric material available, the MMRTG’s energy conversion efficiency will be greatly improved as thermoelectric generator efficiencies are largely determined by the properties of the materials within the thermocouple devices used to convert the heat into energy. A project that focuses on enhancing the MMRTG is imperative for the future of space exploration as there is global shortage of plutonium fuel production, limiting future missions to available supplies. A more efficient generator will minimize the use of this fuel while maximizing power output, allowing for increased mission capabilities and better conservation of the scarce plutonium fuel. In this report, lanthanum telluride, Yb14MnSb14, and a multiple-filled skutterudite (SKD) compound are analyzed for their excellent thermoelectric performance. The multiple filled SKD compound is chosen as the ideal material to enhance the MMRTG based on the low cost and low risks associated with the material while producing a nearly identical efficiency relative to the other candidates.

Keywords: eMMRTG, MMRTG, thermoelectric materials, thermoelectric generator, efficiency

Published
2020-05-02
Section
Articles