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Amrita Alumnus Spends Summer Modeling Nuclear Generators for Space Expeditions

September 21, 2018 - 5:13
Amrita Alumnus Spends Summer Modeling Nuclear Generators for Space Expeditions

Khooshboo Dani, who completed a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from School of Engineering, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore campus, spent her time as an intern for the Center of Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) at the Idaho National Laboratory, a group which develops advanced nuclear systems for space travel. She and her research team of four other college students were tasked with determining how nuclear fuel interacts with the surrounding materials and how this interaction can influence the efficiency of energy conversion.

The team, consisting of students from backgrounds ranging from chemical engineering to materials science, to nuclear engineering, created the framework of a computer model that allows the CSNR scientists to change the initial conditions of parameters like temperature and pressure to see how the gas dynamics would affect the material interaction. Their work could help improve the future designs and considerations of MMRTGs.

Khooshboo Dani has developed an interest in power systems, as a master’s student in Viterbi’s Department of Astronautical Engineering (MS ’19) and former member of the Liquid Propulsion Lab, a student-led rocket building group.

According to Khooshboo Dani, solar panels can be used for short distance space missions to generate power. For deep space missions and those requiring more power, they must use nuclear energy created by radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs. Newer RTG designs are able to provide power for multiple missions, called MMRTGs. These have a modular design that generates power in smaller increments. More recently, an MMRTG was used aboard the Curiosity Mars rover and will be used in the future Mars 2020 rover.

“As of now, there is no other practical technology that people have found besides nuclear. I think until we find a better technology to power our spacecrafts on deep space missions, nuclear is the present and might be the future,” Dani said.

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