How to power Curiosity from a planet away

Curiosity touched down with a ton of fanfare today, but a big question going forward is whether its power source can keep it up and running during its exploration of Mars.

It’s no surprise that the technology isn’t something you can pick up at your local car dealership.

The rover uses a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator that can provide a reliable 110 watts of power. According to NASA, the power source should give the rover enough power for at least two years, or roughly one Martian year.

Scientists decided to ditch the solar-panel power used in many previous space ventures in favor of the radioisotope thermoelectric generator after a study found the rover’s energy source could provide significantly greater mobility and operation flexibility.

The generator also can provide heat to critical instruments and parts as the radioisotopes decay. That should improve the rover’s efficiency and longevity.

The power source represents the most advanced space battery currently produced, and it was assembled and tested at the Idaho National Laboratory. NASA has used nuclear batteries in 26 missions, according to Idaho National Laboratory.


Missed the Mars rover content? Here are a few of our links on the mission with photos and video of the event:

7 minutes of glory as NASA lands rover on Mars
Live chat to discuss the daredevil descent of Curiosity
NASA hopes are riding on Mars rover’s tricky descent