Spacecraft power technologies

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Attitude determination is performed using an autonomous high-accuracy 5 arcsec over 10 seconds two-head star tracker, GPS sensors and a three-axis magnetometer. Sun pointing to arcsec accuracy is expected.

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Autonomous navigation is enabled with GPS position determination and orbit propagation. All the required navigation and maneuvering computations are performed onboard. A single resistojet thruster is being used for orbit adjustment. The thruster uses xenon as the propellant gas and, as the xenon supply is depleted, the tank is repressurized with nitrogen from a solid-state gas generator.

Power is generated by triple-junction gallium-arsenide solar cells mounted on two deployable panels and one fixed panel. The solar generators provide a maximum of watts of electrical power at the end of the nominal two-year mission.

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Spacecraft Power Subsystem Technology Selection - IEEE Conference Publication

He asked Geveden if such tech could be used to deflect an incoming asteroid and to deorbit space junk. The potential is definitely there in both cases, Geveden replied. Vice President, there's an amazing opportunity here that the United States of America should take advantage of," Bridenstine said. The nation may already be on that path.

Spacecraft Power

Nuclear thermal propulsion is not to be confused with radioisotope thermoelectric generator RTG tech. RTGs convert the heat generated by the radioactive decay of plutonium into electricity, which then powers spacecraft instruments and other gear.

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NASA has been using RTGs for decades; they've powered some of the agency's most famous planetary explorers, including the twin Voyager probes, the Cassini Saturn spacecraft and the Curiosity Mars rover. Other nuclear tech could aid exploration in the future as well. For example, researchers are developing a small fission reactor that could power crewed outposts on the moon and Mars.

This "Kilopower reactor" could be ready for a flight demonstration in if NASA so desires, project team members said recently. The NSC helps steer the nation's space policy.


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