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Friday, July 8, 2016

F3 Power Problems

            Peterson glowered. The group of engineers he met with—he hadn’t bothered learning their names, instead calling them by names from The Fellowship of The Ring—had brought him power calculations for various batteries, none of which would meet the power requirements necessary for what Jim Macomber wanted from the nanosats.
            “It can’t be done,” Boromir said. “We could probably get a battery that could meet the power requirements for half an hour, and hour at most, but to get in the four to six hour range that you need, is going to mean more cells. More cells means more mass and a bigger form factor. And if the director wants an entire day’s worth of transmitting power, over those distances, we’re talking about another New Horizons probe.”
            “You said that before,” Peterson glowered some more.
            “Well, maybe if—”
            “Just shut up!” Gimli said. “We get it. Stop griping over the batteries and try and come up with a solution. Miniaturized fission reactor?”
Aragorn, the calmest of the bunch, shook his head slowly. “The smallest reactor ever made isn’t small enough.”
“What about fuel cells? We only need it for a few hours,” Gimli offered.
            “To handle that reaction rate, we need to scale it up, and that’s a lot of parts that can go wrong.”
            “So we’re back to RTG, but that can’t produce enough power without scaling up the size.”
            “Not with plutonium, no,” Arwen said.
            Technically Arwen Evenstar was not part of the fellowship, but the original group didn’t have any women in it, so Peterson made an exception. Besides, she was married to Aragorn, so it made sense to name her Arwen.
            “Well, what do you want to use, Strontium? That doesn’t have the same power profile, either,” Boromir scoffed.
            “Plutonium is useless, really,” she ignored Boromir. “We only use it because of its long half-life, but, for once, we don’t care about the longevity of the satellite. So we use Polonium 210.”
            “Are you nuts? Polonium only has a half live of 183 days? There’s no way we can get enough of it for 1000 nanosats.”
            “I don’t care about that,” Peterson said. “I care about solving the power problem. Did you run the numbers, will an RTG work with Polonium 210?”
            “Well, because of the higher temperature, we can ditch the thermocouple for a thermionic converter, which is more efficient. And its power density is phenomenal compared to Plutonium.”
            She made a gesture on her data slate, sending the calculations to Peterson.
            Peterson reviewed the calculations, letting a small smile come to his face for the first time in days. “A few grams per nanosat, so we need a few kilograms to make this work, right?”
            “That’s what I’ve come up with. Of course we’ll have to redesign the RTG from the ground up for the smaller form factor, but we’ll have plenty of power. Assuming, of course, that the RTGs are the last component installed in the nanosats and the launch happens in a matter of days after they’re manufactured.”
            “Won’t work,” Boromir continued shaking his head. “We can’t produce that much Polonium in bulk.”
            God, is this what people feel like dealing with me? I just want to pop the guy in the mouth.
            “That’s Jim Macomber’s problem,” Peterson said.
            “Guess it’s one of those good news, bad news kinds of things, right?” Aragorn said.

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