Teledyne's thermal power system products date back to 1959. The company developed Pu-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) called the SNAP 3B and SNAP 9, which ranged from 3-25 watts and Sr-90 RTGs called the SNAP 7 and Sentry which ranged from 5-60 Watts. In 1961 the company made history by being the first to put a RTG into space with the launch of a NAVSAT satellite. That first satellite is still orbiting today but operation was halted in 1996 after the positioning technology was obsoleted by GPS.
In 1968 Martin’s nuclear division was sold to Teledyne which continued the Glenn L. Martin Company’s tradition of success. Teledyne quickly expanded the product line to include RTGs that could provide anywhere from 2 to 650 watts. One of the new units, the SNAP 19, was the first to be used by NASA for space exploration. The SNAP 19 powered the Pioneer spacecraft that performed the first flyby of Jupiter in the early 70’s and a later flyby of Saturn in 1979.
The SNAP 19 also powered the Viking Mars Landers which accomplished the first successful landings on Mars in the 1970’s. Not only did the RTG provide electrical power for the Viking Landers, it also supplied the heat required to keep the Landers operational at temperatures down to -185 deg F on the harsh Mars surface. The RTGs on the Landers continued to operate for many years after their missions had been completed and were still operating when NASA decided to shut down the Landers.
In 2003 Teledyne was contracted to develop the Multi Mission Radioisotope Thermal Electric Generator or MMRTG. The MMRTG is the power source on the Mars Curiosity Rover which successfully touched down in 2012 after going through the infamous “7 minutes of terror.” There are also plans to use the MMRTG on future missions.
In addition to the space applications, Teledyne has a long history of producing terrestrial based RTGs and thermoelectric generators for both government and commercial applications dating back to the 1960’s.