2008

Simulating the Gradually Deteriorating Performance of an RTG

Degra (now in version 3) is a computer program that simulates the performance of a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) over its lifetime. Degra is provided with a graphical user interface that is used to edit input parameters that describe the initial state of the RTG and the time-varying loads and environment to which it will be exposed. Performance is computed by modeling the flows of heat from the radioactive source and through the thermocouples, also allowing for losses, to determine the temperature drop across the thermocouples. This temperature drop is used to determine the open-circuit voltage, electrical resistance, and thermal conductance of the thermocouples. Output power can then be computed by relating the open-circuit voltage and the electrical resistance of the thermocouples to a specified time-varying load voltage.

Degra accounts for the gradual deterioration of performance attributable primarily to decay of the radioactive source and secondarily to gradual deterioration of the thermoelectric material. To provide guidance to an RTG designer, given a minimum of input, Degra computes the dimensions, masses, and thermal conductances of important internal structures as well as the overall external dimensions and total mass.

This program was written by Eric G. Wood, Richard C. Ewell, Jagdish Patel, David R. Hanks, Juan A. Lozano, G. Jeffrey Snyder, and Larry Noon of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Karina Edmonds of the California Institute of Technology at (626) 395-2322. Refer to NPO-45252.