NASA Can Make 3 More Nuclear Batteries, And That's It
J Thoendell stashed this in Space
Few materials in the universe are in as short supply as plutonium-238--the hot, radioactive material NASA uses to power its pluckiest spacecraft. It's estimated only 77 pounds (35 kilograms) of the stuff remains available to NASA, yet only 37 pounds (17 kilograms) of that supply is of a high-enough quality to use. And that's a huge problem for deep-space missions of the future.
Plutonium-238 is an artifact of the Cold War, a byproduct of the process used to make nuclear weapons. Since nuclear non-proliferation became popular, the flow of plutonium-238 has ceased and left limited stockpiles of this incredibly useful and relatively long-lived fuel. Plutonium-238 continues to power deep-space missions such as Voyager, Curiosity, and New Horizons, but according to a new report by Space News, there's only enough left to make three more nuclear batteries.