Welcome to the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator interactive 3D model. Click "Open" to begin.

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The Isotope

Isotope Support and RTG Cap

The Thermocouple

The Fins

The Casing

The radioactive isotope is central to the RTGs design. This nuclear source provides the heat from which the rest of the design produces electricity. Most designs use Plutonium-238, Strontium-90, or Americium-241 for their power density, half-life, and radioactive shielding requirements.

The radioactive isotopes must be held in the center of the RTG for maximum thermocouple efficiency. As such, RTGs contain special clamps to hold the isotopes in place. On the end, you can see the cap to seal the RTG.

Regulating temperatures on an RTG is critical to its proper function and operation. However, not all the heat emitted by the radioactive isotope is needed to keep an RTG running. As such, most RTGs have radiator fins.

Especially important for deep space probes, RTGs must be able to maintain a certain temperature to keep electronics operating properly. The RTG is covered with many layers of insulation and then a hard outer shell to protect the critical workings of the device. In addition, the outer casing protects many of the RTGs electronics from harmful radiation.

Most RTGs are 1 to 2 meters long, and 0.5 to 1 meter wide. Of course, these measurements change in every design, but most RTGs built to date follow a relatively similar design pattern. With all isotopes, thermal protection and casing on board, most RTGs range from 35 to 50 kilograms.

The thermocouple, discovered in 1821 by Thomas Johann Seebeck is a device that can produce electricity by differences in surrounding temperature.