NASA loads Mars Perseverance rover with its nuclear power source ahead of launch

NASA is set to launch its latest Mars mission next week that will put the Mars Perseverance rover on the surface of the Red Planet. Part of getting ready for that launch is to put the nuclear power supply inside the rover. NASA confirmed this week that it installed the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) into the rover.

NASA confirmed that the power generating unit is performing well and has been activated. The MMRTG is activated at the moment of assembly because the radio source continuously generates heat, which a solid-state thermoelectric device turns into voltage. That voltage is used to power the instruments and sensors aboard the rover.

The specific power source inside the Mars Perseverance rover’s MMRTG is plutonium-238. The decay of that material generates heat that is converted into a 110 W source of electricity. The electricity, in turn, powers two lithium-ion batteries aboard the rover. NASA expects the power system to provide a 14-year lifespan.

Despite having the ability to operate for 14 years, NASA says that the rover’s scheduled mission is meant to last less than two years. One of the most exciting things about the Perseverance Rover is that it will carry the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. That particular craft, if it successfully flies, will be the first attempt at controlled flight outside of Earth.

If the helicopter is successful in its flight, it could also open up an entirely new avenue for exploration in the future. The Perseverance Rover is currently scheduled to launch on July 30 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. One main goal of the mission is to search for signs of habitable conditions on ancient Mars and detect indications of past microbial life on the planet.

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