How Nuclear Powers Up Space Exploration
Space exploration depends heavily on small satellites such as CubeSats or nanosatellites. These miniature spacecraft are used for Earth observation, communication, scientific research, and technology demonstration, to name a few applications.
Due to the demand for space exploration technology innovation, clean energy solutions for small satellites are becoming increasingly important as the space industry continues to grow. Small satellites are typically limited in size, mass, and power, which makes them well-suited for clean energy solutions.
Currently, the most commonly used clean energy generation option for small satellites is the combination of solar power and energy storage in the form of chemical batteries. The development of efficient, continuous power generation alternatives is crucial to ensure power supply and successful completion of missions.
These are some of the power challenges of space exploration missions faced by small satellites and how DKS' radioisotopic power sources in collaboration with NASA promise to be a solution to many of the problems listed below:
A Solution to Limited Solar Power:
Small satellites often rely on solar panels to generate electrical power from sunlight. However, their small size means they have a limited surface area for solar panels. It restricts the energy these can generate, especially in deep space or while cruising over orbits with reduced sunlight.
The DKS modular power source acts as a continuous generation power source that complements the solar panel in situations where reduced solar exposure is expected, such as during eclipses or when in the shadow of a celestial body. Our technology does not require sun exposure to generate persistent power and is immune to space's harsh environmental conditions.
A Solution to Energy Storage Constraints:
Small satellites have limited space for energy storage systems, which can only store a finite amount of electrical energy. Balancing the power generation and consumption to ensure continuous operation throughout the mission can be challenging.
Battery degradation over time is a concern for long-term missions. The DKS small cell structure keeps its integrity despite harsh conditions and does not require maintenance due to the extensive half-life of the isotopes, sometimes lasting for decades.
The compact mass and volume characteristics of our power sources present a significant advantage over other power alternatives, and no degradation due to environmental conditions is expected. Small satellites must carefully manage their power usage to extend battery life and account for degradation over time, and our solution significantly alleviates this problem.
A Solution to Rapid Power Variations:
Space environments can be dynamic and characterized by drastic variations in temperature and radiation levels. These variations often affect the efficiency and performance of solar panels and batteries, not allowing them to keep a stable power supply.
As mentioned before, the DKS’ power solution is resistant to austere and hostile environments. The power source uses the natural radioactive decay of isotopes to generate electricity through indirect and direct conversion. These are highly reliable and can provide a consistent power supply for decades, even in deep space environments, making them suitable for long-duration missions to remote or dark regions of space.
A Solution to Communication and Data Transfer Interruptions:
Small satellites need reliable power for communication systems to transmit data back to Earth or to relay data between spacecraft in a constellation. This requirement can strain the power budget, especially for missions with high data transfer requirements.
Due to the independent generation of the DKS devices, critical systems such as the clock and communication devices can continue running uninterruptedly, regardless of the condition of the rest of the satellite.
Adding this system integrity ensures mission success and benefits the expansion of missions while allowing aerospace technology applications to operate efficiently without interruptions.
The DKS Contribution
Our technology is currently carrying on extensive testing through an SBIR contract with NASA that allows us to enhance our modular radioisotopic power source (RPS) to demonstrate its outstanding performance in comparison to the current state-of-the-art offering, which is a combination of chemical batteries and solar arrays in the small satellite market.
The design will be a power management system that will combine DKS RPS with the current configuration of chemical batteries and solar in CubeSats to extend their mission capabilities.
DKS RPS cells are compact, long-lasting, and can withstand harsh environmental conditions, as these can convert energy directly through beta and alpha-emitting isotopes. Our goal is to provide a power solution that is efficient in generating energy and easy to store, manage, and maintain for space missions that last more than five years, from Earth orbit to deep space exploration.
We are open to partnering with small satellite and aerospace technology developers to explore innovative solutions to maximize the power available for their missions while minimizing power-related risks.
To learn more, visit our Technology page.
About Direct Kinetic Solutions
Direct Kinetic Solutions envisions becoming the power solution for future generations. The company develops, manufactures, and sells Persistent Power Sources (PPS). These devices harness the high energy density of beta-emitting isotopes and utilize their continuous, and steady emission of energy to generate current that can be utilized to directly power devices, charge chemical batteries, or work as complements to other power sources, such as solar.
For more information, please visit directkinetics.com/contact