Most people are clear about what the electronic devices we carry in our pockets and the electric vehicles that transport us are powered by. Lithium batteries are very popular and few people are unaware of their existence. Those most interested are aware of the research on New Materials such as solid electrolytes or new chemicals such as those of silicon, sodium or sulfur. But there are some batteries, those used in space applications that are less known and that have been powering vehicles that have made the most spectacular trips over the last decades. This is a compilation made by batterytechonline of those used by NASA from Apollo 11 to the James Webb Telescope.
We are currently in a good time for fans of space programs. The most spectacular have been the images that the james webb telescope is sending on its way back to Earth. NASA has announced an approximate date for the launch your new rocket Space Launch System (SLS) and for the Artemis 1 mission: August 29 is the date set for the NASA return to the moon. Under the name of Artemis a series of international spaceflight programs manned led by the United States. Although this first mission will not be manned, it will mark the beginning of a new stage that could be compared to the Apollo years. In fact, NASA has decided to announce another launch date, May 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
For those who want to know more about battery technology, these space trips provide answers to questions about the energy storage systems used in vehicles: the innovation they provide, their comparison with previous systems and the possibilities of their being used in land vehicles. In the case of Artemis, how do its batteries compare to what NASA deployed more than 50 years ago on the Apollo missions? The same happens in the case of the Webb telescope, heir to the Hubble, which in 2009 had its “batteries” changed while it was in orbit. In the case of Webb, this operation would be much more complicated because it orbits 1.5 million kilometers from the earth, while Hubble did it at 570 kilometers.
The lunar module apollo 11 used six silver zinc oxide batteries supplied by battery manufacturer EaglePicher Technologies. Four of them were used to power the descent maneuver to the moon and two more for the ascent.
According to Jack Brill, project engineer for EaglePicher’s Apollo program, DesignNews in 2019, its manufacture featured alternating plates of silver and zinc, separated by paper insulation and surrounded by a liquid potassium hydroxide electrolyte. The most important goal in this case “was to lose weight.”
On July 8, NASA technicians activated some of the lithium ion batteries used for elements of Artemis 1 rocket, including solid rocket propellants and ICPS. “The core stage batteries will be activated in the next few weeks and then all will be installed,” according to a NASA blog post.
KULR Technology Group is safety testing lithium-ion batteries from the Artemis Program to ensure they meet NASA’s stringent certification requirements for human spaceflight: EP-WI-037, according to a press release.
Curiosity Mars Rover
The Curiosity rover works with a system of radioisotopes: 4.8 kilograms of plutonium dioxide are used to generate electricity (just over 100 W) from the heat of its radioactive decay. According to a NASA fact sheet, they were also installed two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to meet the peak demands of rover activities when these temporarily exceed the constant levels of electrical output from the generator.
The hubble telescopewhich runs on solar energy, used six nickel hydrogen batteries for use when the satellite is in the shadow of the Earth, which occurs approximately 36 minutes out of every 95-minute Earth orbit. In 2009, the original batteries were changed for new ones during maintenance mission 4.
According to the NASA fact sheet, the six batteries together store an amount of energy equivalent to 20 car batteries. The batteries are connected in parallel and deliver 32 volts each (the equivalent of about 29 AA batteries).
Each of them is composed of 22 nickel hydrogen cells. Their design is conceived to be easily handled by astronauts in replacement operations. The batteries are mounted on two hubs that contain three batteries each. The fully charged system can store 528 Ah of electrical charge and contains enough power to keep the telescope in normal scientific operation mode for 7.5 hours, or five orbits.
The International Space Station (ISS)
The International Space Station it needs battery power when it is in Earth’s shadow, which happens about 45 minutes out of every 90-minute orbit. They were originally nickel-hydrogen, but in December 2016, NASA began upgrading the system to use lithium-ion batteries.
This operation required a total of four trips by the HTV cargo ship and 14 spacewalks. The new batteries have been provided by Boeing, which has worked with Aerojet Rocketdyne, GS Yuasa Lithium Power and other companies to develop and manufacture them to NASA specifications.
In March 2021, it was announced that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) would bring solid-state battery technology to the International Space Station to test its performance for six months in the harsh conditions of space.
Juno Jupiter Probe
June It arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after making a journey of 2.7 billion kilometers that lasted five years. With an orbit five times farther from the sun than Earth’s, the largest planet in the solar system receives 25 times less sunlight than Earth. Juno was the first probe designed to operate on solar power at such an extreme distance. Two lithium ion batteries Of 55 Ah, able to tolerate the radiation environment of Jupiter, they provide energy to Juno when it is in eclipse, according to the NASA fact sheet.
James Webb Space Telescope
Although the webb telescope is solar powered, relies on Enersys ABSL lithium-ion batteries. According to the company, EnerSys was selected by Northrop Grumman in 2012 to provide the lithium ion batteries ABSL 8s44p rechargeable batteries with Webb disconnect relays. Later, in 2018, a second contract was awarded to an additional 8s44p battery, designed to incorporate alternative cell chemistry.
ABSL lithium-ion batteries were selected for this mission due to their stringent design and structural and thermal performance, “with which they provide the long and reliable service life that successful space missions demand,” according to an Enersys press release.
…and a bonus, the X-57 Maxwell electric plane
Back on Earth, NASA is developing its first all-electric experimental aircraft called the X-57 Maxwell. The propulsion system has a total weight of 1,750 kilograms of which 390 correspond to lithium batteries. With it, the cruising speed you can reach is 276km/h at an elevation of 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). With this configuration, the American space agency launched a ground test program to ensure that the flight conditions it offers meet safety standards. Finished these actual flight tests to test the feasibility of electric airworthiness for commercial aircraft. According to NASA, the X-57 manages to achieve 500% more efficiency in high-speed cruises, without carbon emissions in flight and complete silence.