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Radio Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs)


Recently, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in collaboration with the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), has embarked on the joint development of Radio thermoelectric generators (RTGs), an innovative approach aimed at surpassing the constraints of conventional chemical engines for interplanetary voyages.


GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Radio Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs)
  2. Applications in Spacecraft
  3. Advantages and Considerations

Radio Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs)

  • Radio Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) are advanced power sources developed for the demands of deep space missions.
  • They offer solutions to the unique challenges posed by these missions, providing essential energy for spacecraft in distant regions of space.
Utilization of Radioactive Decay:
  • RTGs rely on the natural decay of radioactive materials like Plutonium-238 or Strontium-90.
  • As these materials decay, they emit heat energy as a byproduct.
  • The heat generated by radioactive decay is the key resource harnessed by RTGs to produce electricity.
Conversion of Heat to Electricity:
  • RTGs employ thermoelectric technology to convert the emitted heat into electrical power.
  • Thermoelectric materials generate electricity when there is a temperature difference between two sides of the material.
  • The heat from the decaying radioactive material creates this temperature difference, leading to the production of electricity.

Applications in Spacecraft:

  • RTGs are particularly useful for spacecraft traveling in regions where sunlight is insufficient for solar panels to generate power.
  • These generators are employed in missions like outer planets exploration, where solar energy is limited due to greater distances from the Sun.
  • RTGs provide propulsion and electrical power to spacecraft components and instruments, enabling long-duration missions.

Advantages and Considerations:

  • RTGs offer a continuous and reliable power source that can endure for many years.
  • They are highly resilient in harsh environments and can function in extreme temperatures and radiation levels.
  • However, the use of radioactive materials requires strict safety measures for handling, transport, and disposal.


  • RTGs play a crucial role in enabling deep space exploration by providing sustained power to spacecraft in remote and challenging environments.

-Source: The Hindu


April 2024