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2 mins read 14 Mar 2022

ANSTO Collaborating on Space Research

ANSTO has announced that it is making its expertise and infrastructure available for Australian space research, including a collaboration with Ouranos Systems.

Credit: ANSTO.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has announced its collaboration with start-up Ouranos Systems to contribute to Australian space research and development. This is part of a move by the ANSTO to make its expertise and infrastructure available for Australian space research. 

Ouranos Systems, founded by Dr Robert Mardus-Hall and Andrew Pastrello and based at the Nandin Innovation Centre at ANSTO, is a company that designs power solutions for space applications. One of Ouranos’ long-term goals is to explore the design of compact modular reactors for space applications. In collaboration with the ANSTO, Ouranos is designing a robust nuclear-based device that can help technology operate in freezing lunar and space environments. 

The tiny 40-gram device, known as a heater unit, provides heat through radioactive nuclear decay. This heat keeps spacecraft components at an operational temperature in the freezing cold of space. Last year, Ouranos was part of a team that received an Australian Space Agency Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility grant to design a radioisotope heater unit for operation during extremely cold lunar nights.

“A large chunk of the work package that includes the selection of a radioisotope, radiation modelling, design of the pellet and shielding, was the responsibility of Ouranos Systems,” explained Dr Mardus-Hall.

“We had to select an appropriate radioisotope that would generate enough heat in a small enough package.

“Heating is critical to maintain operability in such a harsh environment, such as a lunar crater.”  

The project includes the selection of a radiation source, design of a pellet using numerical heat transfer and radiation-transport models, design of a ballistic casing and thermal shielding, manufacturing of a prototype, testing and logistics and regulatory challenges for the irradiation.

Ouranos has completed a workable design for the thermal shielding which is necessary for when the radiation source for the heater is removed from a nuclear reactor. If the heater was produced in Australia, ANSTO’s multipurpose OPAL reactor could be used to produce the radioisotope in sufficient commercial quantities.  

“Our business partner is very pleased with the progress so far,” said Dr Mardus-Hall.

The project is expected to wrap up in June.