When the rover Curiosity lands on Mars Aug. 5 it will be powered by a generator carrying plutonium with origins in the San Fernando Valley.
Canoga Park-based Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne designed and built the power source, officially named the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, and conducted some of the development and testing locally. Teledyne Energy Systems, a subsidiary of Thousand Oaks-based Teledyne Technologies Corp., provided the thermoelectric materials and core power generator components.
By using a nuclear-powered generator, Curiosity has advantages over the previous two solar-powered rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, which landed in 2004. Curiosity, for instance, is not affected by bad weather or dust storms which block out the sun on the red planet’s surface. And the vehicle — about the size of a MINI Cooper — can travel into deep canyons where natural light does not penetrate.
“You want to get into places where there is interesting information hidden from you in the shade,” said David Woerner, the office manager for the generator project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in La Canada-Flintridge, which oversees deep space and planetary exploration for NASA.
For more on this story read the Aug. 6 edition of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.