January 10, 2016

"For the first time in nearly 30 years, the U.S. Department of Energy has produced a sample of plutonium-238, the radioactive isotope used to power deep space missions, good news for future NASA space probes heading to destinations starved of sunlight."

Spaceflight Now: The 50-gram (0.1-pound) sample is a fraction of the plutonium needed to fuel one spacecraft power generator, but the Energy Department said the material represents the first end-to-end demonstration of plutonium-238 production in the United States since 1988. by Stephen Clark

'The DOE made the new batch of plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

'“This significant achievement by our team mates at DOE signals a new renaissance in the exploration of our solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, in a press release. “Radioisotope power systems are a key tool to power the next generation of planetary orbiters, landers and rovers in our quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe.”

'NASA has spent more than $200 million maintaining the Energy Department’s infrastructure — and to pay for the resumption of plutonium-238 production — since 2012 in a bid to resolve a shortage that cramped the development of missions to visit the outer solar system and other destinations without stable sunlight.'

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