Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

PU-238-coupLed dynamic power system for SpAce exploRation and beyond

Project description

Making power generation in space more efficient and affordable

Radioisotope power systems (RPS) convert heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 – a radioactive isotope – into electrical power. They are a key enabling technology for deep space exploration, where the sun cannot deliver sufficient power to spacecraft. The goal of the EU-funded PULSAR project is to overcome technological shortcomings to the development of RPS and eliminate Europe’s dependency on plutonium-238 from external suppliers. PULSAR will lay the foundations for end-to-end production of plutonium-238 and use a Stirling engine to design a dynamic RPS that will be far more efficient than current systems.


For space missions both Photovoltaic (PV) cells and Radioisotope Thermoelectrical Generators (RTG), fueled by Plutonium 238 (Pu-238) are used to produce electricity to power missions. From a European point of view, this has several drawbacks, as neither Pu-238 or any RTGs are produced in Europe and RTGs are very power inefficient, with a yield often of 5% of the fuel potential. This means that large amounts of fuel, and large RTGs, are needed to power missions, which increases the payloads.

PULSAR is the first step on a European path to resolve these issues and take a world leading role in powering space exploration.

The PULSAR project has two overarching global ambitions. These are;
• Develop, in Europe, the building blocks to establish the complete end-to-end capability to produce Pu-238 to help power existing Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG) and Radioisotope Heater Units (RHUs) from the constituent elements to module production – addressing critical & non-dependencies technology needs;
• Disruptively increase the thermo-electrical conversion efficiency of dynamic Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) with an advanced Stirling engine improving the performance of the ”state-of-practice” thermoelectric materials.

This will be achieved by
-Performing first designs and studies for selecting targets for Pu-238 generation, examine fabrication constraints and separation options
-Designing a new welding methodology for iridium encapsulation by laser welding and produce a prototype capsule.
-Designing and evaluating a robust Stirling convertor for use as an RPS
-Addressing the regulatory and safety framework for Pu-238 use in space travel
-Performing an analysis of the market potential and its segmentation for PULSAR results

PULSAR brings together a uniquely placed consortium led by TRACTEBEL, with the support of JRC, ESA and Ariane group.



Net EU contribution
€ 318 858,50
Boulevard simon bolivar 36
1000 Bruxelles

See on map

Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/ Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Arr. de Bruxelles-Capitale/Arr. Brussel-Hoofdstad
Activity type
Private for-profit entities (excluding Higher or Secondary Education Establishments)
Other funding
€ 136 654,00

Participants (9)