UK teams with Korea on space battery design

David Fowler
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Leicester University and National Nuclear Laboratory have signed an agreement with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute on space battery design.

The organisations have agreed to cooperate on research on radioisotope thermoelectric power generators for use in space exploration. Development of these technologies will allow space missions that can reach distant, cold, dark and inhospitable environments.

The partners have also signed up to developing international standards and safety associated with the systems.Leicester University and National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) are leading the development of radioisotope thermoelectric generators and heater units as part of a European Space Agency programme, in collaboration with a host of industry and academic partners in the UK, France and Germany.

Prof Iain Gillespie, Leicester University’s pro-vice-chancellor of research and engineering, said: “Missions using nuclear power offer greater versatility in challenging environments. In many cases nuclear systems can enable missions that would otherwise be impossible.”

Dr Young Uk Jeong, KAERI senior vice president for quantum science convergence, said: “This memorandum of understanding will provide our respective countries with opportunities to pursue new avenues of collaboration and to discuss ways of increasing substantive cooperation in space nuclear power systems.”

Last year, the university reported that, in collaboration with Airbus Defence and Space, Queen Mary University of London, European Thermodynamics, Lockheed Martin UK and Fluid Gravity Engineering, a 10W prototype of a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, designed to be fuelled by americium-241, had been developed and tested.

The project partners planned to go on to develop a modular RTG capable of generating up to 50W of electrical power. NNL was to provide the fuel, by extracting americium from the UK’s civil plutonium stocks.

Prototype space battery (Image: Leicester University)
 

Prototype space battery (Image: Leicester University)