JUDITH PERERA / JVZ / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY JUDITH PERERA / JVZ / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Satellite reactor. Topaz thermionic nuclear reactor used to power satellites and spacecraft. Thermionic reactors generate electricity by using heat to "boil" electrons from a cathode which then cross a short space to an anode. Nuclear reactors can provide a steady power over a long life. However, they are expensive, heavy, and can lead to environmental pollution if the spacecraft re- enters the atmosphere. First designed in 1958, Topaz reactors were used in Soviet Cosmos satellites. A development of the original design is scheduled for use in American spacecraft in the twenty-first century.
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