This high-energy density power source is an alternative to radioisotopes or primary batteries.
The use of onboard rocket propellants (dense liquids at room temperature) in place of conventional cryogenic fuel-cell reactants (hydrogen and oxygen) eliminates the mass penalties associated with cryocooling and boil-off. The high energy content and density of the rocket propellants will also require no additional chemical processing.
For a 30-day mission on the Moon that requires a continuous 100 watts of power, the reactant mass and volume would be reduced by 15 and 50 percent, respectively, even without accounting for boil-off losses. The savings increase further with increasing transit times. A high-temperature, solid oxide, electrolyte-based fuel-cell configuration, that can rapidly combine rocket propellants — both mono-propellant system with hydrazine and bi-propellant systems such as monomethyl hydrazine/ unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (MMH/UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) to produce electrical energy — overcomes the severe drawbacks of earlier attempts in 1963–1967 of using fuel reforming and aqueous media. The electrical energy available from such a fuel cell operating at 60-percent efficiency is estimated to be 1,500 Wh/kg of reactants. The proposed use of zirconia-based oxide electrolyte at 800–1,000°C will permit continuous operation, very high power densities, and substantially increased efficiency of conversion over any of the earlier attempts. The solid oxide fuel cell is also tolerant to a wide range of environmental temperatures. Such a system is built for easy refueling for exploration missions and for the ability to turn on after several years of transit. Specific examples of future missions are in-situ landers on Europa and Titan that will face extreme radiation and temperature environments, flyby missions to Saturn, and landed missions on the Moon with 14 day/night cycles.
This work was done by Gani Ganapathi and Sri Narayan of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. NPO-44977
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