General Motors develops Ultium batteries for electric cars with lunar specifications

The future electric vehicle that explores the lunar surface on future NASA missions it could be powered by the same Ultium batteries that power General Motors electric cars. The association between GM and Lockheed Martin aims to compete against various contenders to build the lunar electric vehicles who will participate in future NASA Artemis missions. Of this vehicle powered by Ultium batteries, which should last 10 years and be capable of undertaking different missions in uncharted terrain Technology will be mined for future General Motors ground vehicles.

More than half a century after Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, the next NASA vehicle to explore the lunar landscape could be powered by the same Ultium batteries as General Motors electric vehicles. If selected, the lunar rover resulting from the collaboration between General Motors and Lockheed Martin, will be one of the fundamental key pieces of the next NASA Artemis missions, which intend to set foot on the moon again for the first time since 1972.

The GM-Lockheed partnership will compete against several contenders for the Artemis contract, most notably the Nissan North America with Sierra Space and Teledyne who have also begun the task of designing this new lunar rover. In 1971, NASA launched a lunar exploration vehicle built by General Motors and Boeing for the Apollo missions. Designers and engineers at GM and Lockheed claim to have studied the work of their predecessors before beginning their task. Artemis’ first mission could launch this yearfollowed by several more complex missions that would span until the middle of the decade.

electric lunar rover general motors nasa ultium hummer ev-interior1
General Motors develops the new lunar rover from virtual development experience gained with the electric Hummer and the rover it built with Boeing in 1971.

General Motors’ Artemis team has simulated the operation of the original rover in a virtual lunar environment and designed the latest vehicle from it, said Brent Deep, GM’s chief engineer for the lunar mobility program. “They were spot on with their designs,” he added. “I’m proud to be a part of what they were in the past and try to push myself to make things a little bit better, a little bit safer and to develop more technology for space exploration.”

lunar specs

The lunar vehicle of the Artemis missions must guarantee a durability of at least 10 years in space and be able to encompass multiple missions and tasks. On the moon, there are 14 days in a row of darkness followed by 14 days of light. Gravity is about one-sixth that of Earth, and abrasive lunar dust can cloud astronauts’ space suits and equipment. According to Lockheed, the vehicle would have to operate in temperatures ranging from -173ºC (-280ºF) and 126ºC (260ºF).

Deep says that it is necessary to “create a completely new specification because no one has ever created a durability environment for the moon: we are going to push our Ultium batteries into the harshest environment an electric vehicle battery has ever seen.” GM engineers will learn how to monitor batteries and make sure they work in that environment and continue to deliver range, capacity and reliability. “And then those same batteries will be in our Ultium products here on Earth”.

The Hummer EV gains more than 10 additional centimeters in its ground clearance
Much of the virtual testing that General Motors has been using for the lunar mission was set up to test the electric Hummer.

Much of the virtual testing that General Motors has been using for the lunar mission was set up to test the electric Hummer, the main representative of its new range of electric vehicles. Built on the Ultium architecture of three electric motors, Hummer’s Edition 1 battery provides the framework needed to achieve and capabilities that It would not be possible implement with a conventional vehicle architecture and propulsion system.

Is composed of bag cells of large format that can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. In Edition 1, the modules are mounted on two layers of vertical cells to generate the combined package that offers an estimated range of 560 kilometers. It also includes the General Motors Wireless Battery Management System. The BMS (Battery Management System, for its acronym in English) is an electronic system that manages the recharging and discharging of a battery and cuts by 90% the length of the cables that run inside it. It has a 800 volt electrical system which can change the working voltage from native 400 V to 800 volts by means of a disconnect unit and a mechanical system that allow the the battery changes from parallel to series.

The development of the Hummer was largely based on conducting simulations for two years, in the coronavirus pandemic, compared to the three to four years needed for most other vehicle testing programs. The Hummer “has a lot of the hallmarks of what a tame lunar rover is going to be,” Deep said. A prototype that can be tested in real situations is not manufactured for this vehicle. The good experience gained in the virtual development of the Hummer will be applied to that of the moon roverr.

General Motors Hummer EV Ultium Technology
The Ultium battery is comprised of large-format, pouch-style cells with NCMA nickel, cobalt, manganese, and aluminum cathodes that can be stacked vertically or horizontally within the battery pack.

GM and Lockheed have designed the lunar rover to travel on the uneven surface of the moon by taking advantage of the Hummer’s off-road capabilities, says Jeff Nield, GM’s director of design. “We have to be able to go through craters and rocks, a combination of very hard surfaces and very soft fine dust,” Nield said. “On Earth, you have soil, sand and rock, but lunar dust is even finer than the sand”.

Navigating the lunar surface could also help advancing autonomous technology of General Motors for its ground vehicles, says Lisa Talarico, engineering manager for the program. Today, autonomous systems are guided by an existing road map and have to avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars that make unexpected movements. On the moon, GM can create a map while simultaneously driving the vehicle. This allows astronauts to be better informed about what is the best way to get to a certain place, what is the optimal path. The autonomous system would study the environment to generate a route that has many more degrees of freedom than on earth. ”We are off the road and there is more freedom of movement. There are no roads and therefore no rules to stay in one lane like on land.”

General Motors trusts that NASA need a variety of space vehicles beyond the Artemis program. “I think this initial rover is really just the beginning for us,” Nield says. “Once we establish an infrastructure up there, and have deployed this first round of rovers, it could be a family of vehicles. We’ll start the updates, the replacements and the improvements, and hopefully it’ll be something that will continue forever.”

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