Tag Archives: NASA

CNA2017

The Canadian Space Agency’s Nuclear Connection

A competition for two new astronaut spots launched by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) received over 3,000 applicants from outstanding Canadians looking to be part of the new frontier in space exploration. From a list of thousands, the race to space is getting narrow, just over a dozen candidates remain. The candidates are as different as their backgrounds and include military personnel, doctors and engineers.

Amongst those in the final running to be selected to join the CSA’s elite team is Alex DeLorey, a project manager for the Bruce Power Nuclear Refurbishment and a SNC-Lavalin team member.
DeLorey is hoping to be one of the final two to earn a coveted spot with the CSA.

Courtesy: Alex DeLorey

“The round of seventy-two was very physical, testing what you’d need to do to be successful on the job, including a grip test while wearing a space suit which is pressurized. The pressurized suit makes it harder to close your hands and demonstrates the difficulty of using tools in space. The round of thirty-two was survival testing,” according to DeLorey.

The survival testing included a series of drills that involved everything from simulating a helicopter crashing into ocean water to various emergency situations, such as fires and floods. To prepare for the trials, DeLorey spent time with the Milton fire department running through different scenarios that included re-enacting rescuing a person from a burning building; containing hazardous materials and rappelling down three stories on a rope. The man who looks to David Saint-Jacques as the astronaut he admires most, spent last summer learning to scuba dive, skydive and fly an airplane, all of this even before submitting an application.

“I had done quite a bit of research on the last recruitment campaign and tailored my preparation for it. I still fly at least once a week to keep my skills up and once it warms up I’ll try to get some scuba and skydiving in,” said DeLorey. “I have been going to the gym regularly at 6:00 am every weekday for the past four years and I also swim a few times a week.”

His strict regimen includes studying all things space related and keeping up with his French language training, even though he is already bilingual. Then there’s his day job as a Project Manager on the Bruce Power Refurbishment: A background which he believes has helped him in his outer space quest.

“I think it helped prepare me quite a bit. I’ve been on the reactor face for Wolsong (A nuclear power plant in South Korea) breathing out of a tube. The places and the situations are very stressful and they can be dangerous if you make wrong choices and so it has prepared me in that sense,” according to DeLorey. “Nuclear is a small industry but an international industry and I have experience of working with international teams so it’s given me quite a bit of preparation.”

The biggest challenge for this astronaut contender is time management. On top of the tremendous amount of training that has been required to get him this far, he continues to maintain his full-time job as a member of the SNC-Lavalin team. He also makes sure he can get out into the community and engage with students about the importance of pursuing your dreams and he recently became a dad for the first time. To make it all happen, DeLorey relies on a strong support network and he gives credit to his wife for his successes to date.

DeLorey speaking to students

Recently, the Trump administration signed a bill in support of NASA, support which could see a manned mission to Mars. It’s a mission this Canadian hopes he will be a part of.

“The plans for space missions in the future include sending astronauts beyond the moon for deep space testing and finally further to Mars,” stated DeLorey. “I would most like to be a part of any of those missions and get to be on the call back to Earth to tell everyone that we had made it to the destination and be a part of the excitement that would come from that.”

Uncategorized

NASA and Nuclear Power

marssoilviewNASA’s history with nuclear power dates all the way back to the early 1960s when the U.S. Navy launched a navigation satellite powered by nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy’s ability to withstand the most extreme conditions has made it an important part of space missions, including the Mars 2020 mission. The next journey to the Red Planet will focus on bringing back soil samples and exploring the atmosphere of Mars to determine its habitability for human life.

NASA recently highlighted the significance of nuclear energy stating, “Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Europa, Saturn, Titan, Uranus, Neptune, the moon, asteroids and comets.  A number of these missions could be enabled or significantly enhanced by the use of radioisotope power systems (RPS).”

A RPS works like this: Through the natural decaying process, isotopes produce a tremendous amount of heat. In the case of an RPS, as the isotope plutonium-238 decomposes the heat is converted into electricity which in turn is used to power travel through space. Plutonium-238 is an artificial element with a half-life of 88 years. The longevity of nuclear energy makes the RPS an ideal and reliable source of power generation even under the harshest of circumstances.

The challenging environment includes temperature extremes not known to earth. Take the moon for example. Temperatures on the surface of the moon can fluctuate between highs of 125 degrees Celsius and lows of -175 degrees. Another challenge with travelling to the outer reaches of the solar system, such as with the New Horizons missions, is being able to conduct research in the dark, requiring a power source that can still operate without the energy of the sun.

For the Mars missions, a big factor in power selection is dust. During its infamous dust storms, the red planet can kick up dust to last for weeks at a time, coating “continent-sized areas,” according to NASA.

Nuclear power has the added benefit of being compact.

“Solar would be too big and we’ve that learned dust in the Martian atmosphere accumulates on the solar cells, so unless you have wind storms to clear them off, you will kill the missions off by running down the batteries,” according to Dr. Ralph McNutt, principal investigator for the New Horizons Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI), from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “If you want to run rovers on Mars and do it accurately and if you want to go to the moon and really investigate in permanent shadows you need nuclear power.”

Compact size isn’t just beneficial, it’s required when working in outer space. Einstein’s theory of relativity (E=Mc2), essentially states that the further the distance you want to travel, the more speed is required, therefore the mass of the object travelling must decrease.

The Rover for Mars 2020 will be about the size of a car and will measure approximately 7 feet in height. The nuclear powered MARS 2020 mission will launch in the summer of 2020 and could provide new clues to past life on the not so distant planet.

Uncategorized

Powering Pluto

Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute

Nuclear technology is helping to make history on the solar system’s icy planet.

A “Pluto Not Yet Explored” stamp has pasted itself into history books after travelling more than 3.2 billion miles, over 5 billion kilometers, to Pluto and beyond.

The mission has landed NASA a spot in the Guinness World Record Books.

The accomplishment is no small feat. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was first launched just over 10 years ago, in early 2006, to study Pluto and the Kuiper Belt close-up. Cold, dark and almost 4 billion miles away from the sun meant that solar power, batteries and fuel cells weren’t viable options to power the mission.

In order to reach the outer icy reaches of our solar system, NASA needed help from an energy source that could survive the most extreme conditions.

So for Pluto, NASA went nuclear.

“We needed a reliable source of power and we’ve put a great deal of money and research into them (the power supplies) so that was really the way to do the mission and  have the highest reliability to run the space craft,” states Dr. Ralph McNutt, principal investigator for the New Horizons Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI), from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

It’s called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator or RTG for short. Think of it as a “nuclear battery” to power spacecraft. RTGs are powered by an isotope known as plutonium-238, an artificial element which has a half-life of almost a century. As this isotope decays it produces heat which is converted into electricity. The electricity required to power the Pluto mission is about 200 watts, the same as using two one-hundred watt light bulbs.

In deep outer space exploration mere seconds can make all the difference.

“Pluto takes approximately 250 years to get around the sun so you have to really know where Pluto is,” according to McNutt.  “We were off by 85 seconds at closest approach [in July 2015], which was really good, but you have to realize we were travelling at 14 kilometers per second. Times that by about 100 seconds and that’s almost 1,400 kilometers, a little bit more than the radius of Pluto.”

In order not to miss out on the opportunity to capture a picture of the dwarf planet, the team of scientists instructed the camera to take pictures of a larger amount of outer space, so that they wouldn’t miss Pluto or its moons as the spacecraft flew by.

Since the miniature planets discovery almost 100 years ago, in 1930, little was known about Pluto. In 2015, images of the planet sent back by New Horizons raised new questions about our solar system. The images sent back reveal glacier-like activity, among many other features, providing new information on the history of our solar system.

The Guinness World Record – awarded for longest distance traveled  for a  postage stamp that engineers affixed to the spacecraft shortly before launch – came around the same time that NASA celebrated 40 years of robots on Mars. Soon, NASA will launch Mars2020 as a first step to hopefully bring back to earth a sample of soil from the Red Plant; a potential space accomplishment made possible thanks to nuclear power.

Uncategorized

Exploring Mars: Nuclear Power Makes it Possible

Three years after landing on Mars, the Curiosity rover is still going strong. The size of an SUV, rovers have been leading the way in scientific discoveries on the Red Planet by collecting pictures and data. Since 2012 the rover mission has been powered by nuclear energy.mars rover

“Previous rovers were solar powered and the life span wasn’t long, but the switch to nuclear allowed it to live longer,” according to Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, a lead scientist on a team of 500 experts who are the eyes and ears on Earth for rover’s missions.

“Dust would accumulate on the solar panels over time and there is no way to clean the panels,” says Vasavada. “You can’t bring water with you. So in order to remove that risk we went to a longer, more reliable power supply.”

Curiosity carries about five kilograms of on-board nuclear power. Heat and electricity are generated by the decay of plutonium-238. As it erodes, it transforms itself into uranium-234. This change gives off a tremendous amount of heat, some of which circulates through Curiosity to keep the instruments warm, and some which converts into electricity to keep the rover working 24/7.

That’s where Ryan Bechtel comes in, along with his team at the Office of Space and Defense Power Systems at the U.S. Department of Energy. As a power systems safety manager for NASA, he and his fellow engineers are responsible for powering Curiosity.

The rover’s power system uses a design based on similar technology used for the Viking landers in the 1970s.It’s called a Multi Mission Radioisotopic Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). Approximately two feet high and two feet in diameter, the MMRTG keeps the rover going around the clock. That’s an accomplishment, in a world where nighttime temperatures usually drop well below -70C – and sometimes reach -100C.

“It makes operations significantly easier because you don’t have to worry about the weather conditions and where the sun is pointed in the sky depending on season or time of day,” says Bechtel. “So it allows for continuous charging for the battery, which ultimately results in more science being collected.”

Innovation—some of it Canadian—turns up in other Curiosity systems, including the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS). This instrument, funded by the Canadian Space Agency, sits on the rover’s arm, looking down at the surface. It detects and analyzes the chemical elements within the rocks and soil. This helps scientists to determine more precisely the history of Mars, and to assess whether the Red Planet could ever have supported life.

While the science teams are sifting through Curiosity’s data, they’re also preparing for the next big step in Martian exploration – the Mars 2020 probe. It’s scheduled to land in February 2021.

The Mars 2020 rover will test new technology to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars. And, just like Curiosity, it will run on nuclear power.

CNA2015

Leading Climatologist Dr. James Hansen to Speak at CNA2015

James Hansen - cropped

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Dr. James Hansen is one of the world’s leading climatologists and former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Dr. Hansen will speak to the CNA2015 crowd about the impact of emerging technologies and discoveries on our ability to maintain a sustainable climate.

“The sheer size of China’s electricity needs demands massive mobilization to construct modern, safe nuclear power plants, educate more nuclear scientists and engineers, and train operators of the power plants,” according to Hansen.

Perhaps the most prominent pro-nuclear environmentalist, Hansen has been credited for being one of first to warn politicians and policy makers about the dangers of climate change.

Hansen was one of four environmental scientists who wrote a 2013 open letter urging the green movement to give up its opposition to nuclear power.

“While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power,” the letter said.

Hansen has argued “nuclear seems to be the best candidate” to help the world move off of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

He’s thinks part of the problem going forward is with the public understanding.

“Nuclear energy is harder for people to understand, the idea of radiation,” he noted. “It’s been painted as very dangerous but it hasn’t been compared with the effects you will get from burning coal, which are very substantial and well known. It’s hard to get the public to understand and make that scientific comparison.”

Hansen has worked on increasing that understanding. In 2013, he published a paper with Pushker Kharecha that concluded nuclear power has saved 1.8 million lives by displacing fossil fuel sources between 1971 and 2009.

“Using historical production data, we calculate that global nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning,” the researchers concluded in their study.