Nuclear Safety Engineering

Global Aerospace Corporation (GAC) has the capability to understand what could happen to radioisotope materials used on planetary missions in the event of launch or flyby accidents. These materials are used on planetary missions at Mars or the outer planets, such as in the Mars Science Laboratory mission Curiosity rover. The Curiosity uses as its electrical power source the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), which converts the heat from plutonium 238 decay into electricity. The advantage of the MMRTG is that, unlike solar panels, it can provide power during the day and night throughout the Martian year in all weather conditions. However, a major disadvantage is the risk of radioactive fallout.

What if a launch vehicle accident occurred? For example, if the launch vehicle exploded in the atmosphere after launch, what would happen to the plutonium? Would it burn up in the atmosphere, be dispersed, or fall back to Earth? Similarly, upon reentry after an upper stage failure or inaccurate gravity assist maneuver at Earth, would the plutonium-containing canister burn up in the atmosphere or sink intact to the bottom of the ocean?

GAC has the capability to answer these questions through aerodynamic analysis, trajectory analysis, reentry breakup analysis, numerical analysis, statistical analysis, and detonation/explosion/chemical analyses required to define the blast, blast driven fragment and thermal environments which may occur in the event of a launch vehicle or spacecraft accident, or the processing of data from said analyses or supporting tests.

Mars Curiosity Rover Self-Portrait (Photo Courtesy: NASA)

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