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Rosatom neutron generator to help researching Mars, Moon and possibly Venus

November 29, 2011, 18:18 UTC+3
A lunar surface vehicle Russia and India plan to send to the Moon in 2013 will study lunar soil with a neutron generator the Rosatom state corporation will develop
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MOSCOW, November 29 (Itar-Tass) —— A lunar surface vehicle Russia and India plan to send to the Moon in 2013 will study lunar soil with a neutron generator the Rosatom state corporation will develop. The use of atomic energy technologies in far space studies will thus become a reality.

“Neutron generators have been used for over 50 years. The gadgets were applied in physical research and studies of substances and materials,” a Rosatom source told Itar-Tass. “Now the technology will be used in space exploration. Their energy lasts for long although their size is miniature.”

The U.S. Curiosity lunar surface vehicle NASA launched to the Mars on November 26 was the first practical example of the use of a neutron generator in a space mission. The vehicle is due to collect information about possible substantial water reserves on Mars for evaluating the prospect of the planet’s future colonization. One of the rover’s instruments is DAN, a pulsed neutron source and detector for measuring hydrogen or ice and water at or near the Martian surface designed at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The source of neutrons is a miniature neutron generator (using energy of plutonium decay), which is designed at the Dukhov Research Institute of Rosatom.

“U.S. specialists have tested the generator in the Martian laboratory MSL under conditions close to real. As a result a neutron generator was designed to be capable of withstanding mechanical and environmental impact in the rocket’s launch from the Earth, the travel from the Earth to the planet, the landing and the rather lengthy operation on the Martian surface,” the source said.

The lunar surface vehicle has no solar batteries, it runs on a plutonium energy source. “As the period of the surface vehicle’s operation does not depend on solar batteries but on the reliability of the vehicle, it is supposed to be studying the Martian surface for one Martian year or two Earth years,” head of the space gamma spectrometry laboratory of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Igor Mitrofanov said.

This means that the generator must have the similar endurance, he remarked.

The neutron generator useful life is ten million impulses, which will be sufficient for the entire period of operation of the Martian rover if impulses occur every ten to 20 seconds. “In the areas where hydrogen or water may be present, the number of impulses will grow and DAN will scan the most interesting sections for detailed studies of the soil,” he said.

“Other gadgets are being developed on the basis of the Martian generator,” Rosatom said. “A Russian-Indian experiment of Moon studies with a neutron generator is planned for 2013,” it said.

The Russian-Indian rover and the purely Russian rover to be sent to the Moon in the near future “will be equipped with neutron generators , which will recognize the entire spectrum of planetary elements on a vast space,” deputy general designer of the Dukhov Research Institute Yevgeny Bogolyubov told Itar-Tass.

The lunar rover is supposed to make a soft landing on a parachute and study the lunar surface for one year. It is not planned to bring the rover back to the Earth.

Bogolyubov does not rule out that NASA may need the Russian neutron generator again for researching Venus several years from now.

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