Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator

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A Radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) is a type of atomic battery which generates electricity from heat generated by the decay of radioactive material. Thermocouples are generally used for the energy conversion, though heat engines could convert the heat directly into mechanical energy to be used as-is or converted into electricity.

Benefit to Martian Settlement

Reliable Power

RTGs offer reliable power to a settlement. While the available energy decreases over time, it is steady. This is in contrast to solar or wind power, which vary based on the weather.

Low Maintenance

RTGs are a low maintenance power source, as evidenced by their use in space probes and unmanned locations on Earth.

Challenges

Useful Life

The useful life of an RTG is limited both by the half life of the radioactive material and the wear lifespan of the energy conversion hardware.

Hazard to Life

The radiation emitted by the RTG pose a hazard to life. Shielding and an isolated location should be sufficient to protect settlements.

Open Issues

  • Are there significant quantities of radioactive material available on Mars?