Tritium-Powered Radiation Sensor Network

Report No. ARL-TR-7440
Authors: Marc S Litz, Dimosthenis C Katsis, Johnny A Russo, James C Brent, and James J Carroll
Date/Pages: September 2015; 24 pages
Abstract: Isotope power supplies offer solutions for long-lived (100 years), low-power (100 µWe) energy sources. The energy density of nuclear batteries uniquely serves applications for sensors or communications nodes that are required to last the lifetime of infrastructure. Efficiencies less than 10% are typical for either direct (or indirect) energy conversion of radiation to electric current. A tritium (3H) beta-source (12.5-year half-life) encapsulated in a phosphor-lined vial is coupled directly to a photovoltaic (PV) generating a trickle current into an electrical load. An inexpensive design approach is described consisting of commercially available components that generate 100 µWe for next-generation compact electronics and sensor applications. A total of 15 µWe electrical power is measured from individual 20-Ci tritium cassettes (80 cc) using gallium arsenide (GaAs) PVs. A compact radiation sensor (400 cc) has been designed and built to operate during long-lived missions. A low-power sensor architecture is described and implemented that uses microprocessor-controlled sleep modes, a judicious choice of low-power electronics, and a passive interrupt driven environmental wake-up. The low-power early-warning radiation detector network combined with a long-lived isotope power source enables no-maintenance mission lifetimes dependent only on the half-life of an isotope of choice.
Distribution: Approved for public release
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Last Update / Reviewed: September 1, 2015