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Batteries - Manned Missions

Manned missions require power sources to be, above all, safe. High performing batteries contain a large amount of energy that must be controlled so that, under all possible failure scenarios, astronaut safety is not compromised. Batteries can be required to supply power for launch vehicles, placing astronauts in orbit or for systems used in space to maintain a safe crew environment, perform experiments or provide utility. Manned batteries generally require high levels of redundancy to ensure functionality is available in the event of multiple failures for absolute reliability. Manned programs are typically run with a very high degree of customer oversight reporting to large project teams and requiring extensive levels analysis and documentation.

ABSL has built a strong relationship with NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), the home of the American manned space program. ABSL and NASA JSC have collaborated on much cell and battery safety research activity leading to a number of co-authored technical papers. In May 2004, ABSL was awarded the contract to supply the NASA Space Shuttle Advance Hydraulic Power System (AHPS) battery. ABSL is unique in being the only vendor to have experience in developing a manned 270V Lithium-ion battery. The AHPS was a planned shuttle upgrade to replace an existing hydrazine Auxiliary Power System (APU) with one powered by a very large Lithium-ion battery. AHPS was to provide power to steer Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) as well as many other mission critical functions such as the control of flight surfaces during the unpowered (gliding) landing phase. The baseline AHPS battery system consisted of three separate 270V and 140Ah battery assemblies. Following competitive selection ABSL was awarded a contract which, including the production phase, was in excess of $50M.

Manned Space Battery experience at ABSL . From left to tight Space Shuttle (AHPS Project), the International Space Station (ISS) MARES experiment, and The Long Life Battery (LLB) for EVA life support.

Following the decision to retire the shuttle in the wider interests of the Exploration Vision, the AHPS program was cancelled. However, the performance of ABSL on this program was exemplary and, following a thorough formal design review, it was officially concluded that there were no technical barriers to continuing the program. Interested parties are strongly encouraged to contact ABSL for a copy of the formal evaluation of ABSL performance on AHPS. However, a good indication is given by the final comments of the evaluating officer who stated “The contractors safety procedures are excellent. The contract is committed to customer satisfaction. The contractor is highly recommended for future contract award.”

This recommendation was taken in 2008 when ABSL was awarded the contract to provide Lithium-ion batteries for the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). The EMU provides life support and other functionality to astronauts during spacewalks or Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). In the past, NASA have employed a silver zinc battery to power EMU but sought a drop-in Lithium-ion replacement to improve performance and alleviate long-term supply concerns. Designing a highly customized Lithium-ion battery to meet the unique electrical and mechanical interfaces was challenging and ABSL was selected for some highly innovative solutions that maximized performance, safety and reliability. ABSL will prove a battery design capable of utilizing two alternative COTS Lithium-ion cells and meeting multiple missions after prolonged long periods of ground storage. ABSL is proud to have been selected for this program where nominal battery performance is essential to preserve astronaut health and safety and looks forward to the first ABSL powered EVA in 2011.

In 2008, ABSL was also selected to provide the battery for the Muscular Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES). MARES is a joint ESA and NASA experiment that will help scientists better understand the effect of long-term astronaut exposure to microgravity during spaceflight. MARES will be used by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2009 following an accelerated battery program. An ABSL Lithium-ion battery solution was chosen late for this program following supply issues with the original supplier of a Nickel Cadmium system. Similarly to EMU, MARES is a technically challenging program as the replacement Lithium-ion system must confirm to the existing interfaces of the original battery.


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