The US Department of Energy announced that 50 grams of Plutonium-238 had been made by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. This is the first time the substance has been made in the country since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina stopped making it in the late 1980s.
"Right now, NASA only has access to 35 kilograms, about 77 pounds, of Pu-238 to power space exploration missions. That's just enough to last into the middle 2020s, powering just two or three proposed missions."
"Two years ago, NASA began funding efforts to make Pu-238 again in ernest. The agency has put about $15 million each year toward the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy's efforts." The next step is to automate and scale up the process.
I didn't know we had lost the capability to produce it and am glad we are starting up again. So how much Pu-238 could we make for the cost of one F-35?
The US government says a new robot is poised to help it create a reliable, long-term supply chain of plutonium-238 (Pu-238): a radioactive material NASA requires to explore deep space.
[...] NASA tried to address the shrinking of its supply in the 1990s, but the agency and its partners didn't secure funding to create a new pipeline for Pu-238 until 2012. That work, which gets about $20 million in funding per year, is finally starting to move from the research phase toward full-scale production. By 2025, the Department of Energy hopes to meet the NASA-mandated need of 3.3 pounds (1,500 grams) per year.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is located in Tennessee and leading the work, says it recently proved there is a way to produce eight times as much Pu-238 as it made just a couple of years ago, thanks to a new automated robot. [...] This week, the lab said in a press release that it's ready to push annual production to more than 14 ounces (400 grams) per year, an eight-fold increase.
Cassini carried 33 kilograms of plutonium. New Horizons had 9,750 grams (lower than the 10,900 grams, 1/3 of the Cassini amount, called for in the original design).
It's time to send a probe to Uranus and Neptune already.