Aerospace concept enables access to inaccessible parts of the solar system

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The Aerospace Corporation’s (Aerospace) Atomic Planar Power for Lightweight Exploration (APPLE) concept is a new type of spacecraft power system that will allow human explorers to access parts of the solar system that were inaccessible before.

The new APPLE spacecraft power system is much lighter making, it faster and cheaper than existing spacecraft systems. Its power system is a combination of a radioisotope source and energy storage in a single, scalable, flat “power tile”, attachable to solar sails. It is also compatible to use structural battery and recycled waste heat, making it long-lasting and rechargeable.

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E. Nemanick, a research scientist in Aerospace’s Energy Technology Department, said: “The real value of APPLE is that it enables fast transit. The ultimate achievement would be to build a spacecraft that can rapidly deliver a science payload to the deepest parts of the solar system in the order of years, not decades.”

During the next nine months, the team will build a power system and radiation models that assess the power needs of deep space missions like a Kuiper belt object flyby and a mission to the solar gravity focal point. The radiation testing will be completed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Aerospace team leads system and mission modelling.

Gabriel Veith, Partner with the Aerospace team on this project, ORNL, said: “This is an exciting approach to reimagining the architecture of batteries to enable greater functionality and survivability in the harsh conditions of space.”

This year, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected 16 NIAC Phase I proposals, each worth up to $125,000 in NASA grant funding. After the nine months of performance, Phase I recipients may apply for Phase II awards.

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