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NASA can make only 3 more nuclear batteries
One of the materials which is extremely rare, is plutonium 238. It is radioactive, hot material, used by NASA to power spacecraft. According to one research, only 35 kg are available to NASA, but only 17 kg can be used. This means NASA will have a serious problem powering spacecraft designed for deep space exploration!
Plutonium 238 is a byproduct of the process which was used for making nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Because Russia and the US stopped making nuclear weapons, plutonium 238 became one of the rarest materials on the planet! It is still powering spacecraft like: Curiosity, Voyager and New Horizons, but according to NASA, there are only plutonium 238 left to make 3 more nuclear batteries! These batteries are known as MMRTGs (Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators) and they were made by the Department of Energy for NASA. During the launch of a spacecraft, it puts 125 watts of power, but after 14 years it fades to 100 watts.
There is another type of nuclear batteries, which can save the day. They are called ASRG (Advance Stirling Radioisotope Generator). They are using ¼ of the plutonium 238, but can produce the same power as an MMRTG. But, NASA closed ASRG department last year, so, producing these batteries won’t happen any time soon! NASA will use one of the three last MMRTGs batteries to power the Mars 2020 mission. More precisely, this battery will power a spacecraft almost identical to the Mars Curiosity Rover. At this moment, NASA doesn’t have plans for other two MMRTG batteries. Recently, the Department of Energy started production of the plutonium 238, so NASA will have more nuclear batteries.