FINDING. Programmatic Balance. Balance within NASA’s RPS program is impossible given the current (fiscal year 2009) budget and the focus on development of flight-ready ASRG technology. However, NASA is moving the ASRG project forward, albeit at the expense of other RPS technologies.
FINDING. Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators. It is important to the national interest to maintain the capability to produce Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, given that proven replacements do not now exist.
RECOMMENDATION. Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators. NASA and/or the Department of Energy should maintain the ability to produce Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators.
FINDING. Flight Readiness. NASA does not have a broadly accepted set of requirements and processes for demonstrating that new technology is flight ready and for committing to its use.
RECOMMENDATION. Flight Readiness. The RPS program and mission planners should jointly develop a set of flight-readiness requirements for RPSs in general and Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generators in particular, as well as a plan and a timetable for meeting the requirements.
RECOMMENDATION. Technology Plan. NASA should develop and implement a comprehensive RPS technology plan that meets NASA’s mission requirements for RPSs while minimizing NASA’s demand for 238Pu. This plan should include, for example:
A prioritized set of program goals.
A prioritized list of technologies.
A list of critical facilities and skills.
A plan for documenting and archiving the knowledge base.
A plan for maturing technology in key areas, such as reliability, power, power degradation, electrical interfaces between the RPS and the spacecraft, thermal interfaces, and verification and validation.
A plan for assessing and mitigating technical and schedule risk.
HIGH-PRIORITY RECOMMENDATION. ASRG Development. NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) should complete the development of the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ARSG) with all deliberate speed, with the goal of demonstrating that ASRGs are a viable option for the Outer Planets Flagship 1 mission. As part of this effort, NASA and the DOE should put final design ASRGs on life test as soon as possible (to demonstrate reliability on the ground) and pursue an early opportunity for operating an ASRG in space (e.g., on Discovery 12).