With the need for long periods of extravehicular activities (EVAs) on the Moon or Mars or a near-asteroid, the need for long-performance batteries has increased significantly. The energy requirements for the EVA suit, as well as surface systems such as rovers, have increased significantly due to the number of applications they need to power at the same time. However, even with the best state-of-the-art Li-ion batteries, it is not possible to power the suit or the rovers for the extended period of performance. Carrying a charging system along with the batteries makes it cumbersome and requires a self-contained power source for the charging system that is usually not possible. An innovative method to charge and use the Li-ion batteries for long periods seems to be necessary and hence, with the advent of the Li-ion supercapacitors, a method has been developed to extend the performance period of the Li-ion power system for future exploration applications.

The Li-ion supercapacitors have a working voltage range of 3.8 to 2.5 V, and are different from a traditional supercapacitor that typically has a working voltage of 1 V. The innovation is to use this Li-ion supercapacitor to charge Li-ion battery systems on an as-needed basis. The supercapacitors are charged using solar arrays and have battery systems of low capacity in parallel to be able to charge any one battery system while they provide power to the application. Supercapacitors can safely take up fast charge since the electrochemical process involved is still based on charge separation rather than the intercalation process seen in Li-ion batteries, thus preventing lithium metal deposition on the anodes. The lack of intercalation and eliminating wear of the supercapacitors allows for them to be charged and discharged safely for a few tens of thousands of cycles.

The Li-ion supercapacitors can be charged from the solar cells during the day during an extended EVA. The Li-ion battery used can be half the capacity required for a nominal EVA. The small Li-ion battery can be divided into two parallel modules with independent charging ports that would allow the supercapacitors to charge one battery while the other is providing power to the rover or suit.

This work was done by Judith Jeevarajan of Johnson Space Center. MSC-25223-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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