Radioactive isotopes power some of NASA’s best-known spacecraft. But predicting how radiation emitted from these isotopes might affect nearby materials is tricky, making it important to design innovative tools that can help employ nuclear materials in the most efficient way.
To help solve this problem, Michael Smith – a nuclear space systems engineer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory – developed a computer program for simulating how radiation fields emitted from radioisotopes will interact with their surroundings. The program, called the Radioisotope Power System Dose Estimation Tool, or RPS-DET, can also simulate how radiation fields might be affected by different spacecraft materials. Plus, it accounts for different environments such as deep space, planetary atmospheres and gas giant moons. This information allows researchers to investigate vehicle designs for specific missions that can harness the full power of nuclear material without compromising the safety of crew members or equipment.
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Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory