NASA’s Journey To Mars Powered By EnerSys Advanced Systems Of Longmont

Joseph Troutman, Senior Manager Space Systems and Development for ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems. Image Credit: Colorado Space News

Joseph Troutman, Senior Manager Space Systems and Development for ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems. Image Credit: Colorado Space News

September 17, 2016 – Representatives from the aerospace industry and government gathered at the Plaza Convention Center in Longmont, Colorado, on September 13, to celebrate the critical role Colorado companies play in NASA’s Journey to Mars. The event, “The Road to Mars Goes Through Longmont,” was hosted by Joseph Troutman, Senior Manager Space Systems and Development for ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems.

Colorado boasts the largest per capita aerospace economy in the United States, with eight of the nation’s top aerospace contractors having a significant presence in Colorado and more than 400 space-related businesses calling the state home. Colorado’s aerospace industry provides 163,000 jobs and has a combined annual payroll of $3.2 billion. Colorado companies build everything from launch vehicles and satellites to command and control software, sensors, spacecraft components and navigation systems.

“And it’s the small businesses that are really making a difference to a lot of these projects,” said Troutman. “Primes like Lockheed, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orbital ATK … are looking for small businesses to support them. Lockheed in particular is very, very aggressive in looking for new small businesses to work with, to get them up to speed and certified to provide space hardware.”

Troutman understands what it’s like to be part of a small company supporting prime contractors. EnerSys Advanced Systems is a subcontractor to both Boeing and Lockheed Martin, providing batteries for the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft.

“The road that goes to Mars takes a lot of teamwork, it takes a lot of talent, it takes a lot of technology,” said Troutman. “EnerSys Advanced Systems here in Longmont is providing Lithium-ion batteries that supply the power for the United States space program to get to Mars, to get to the moon, to get to asteroids, and to get to deep space planets. And we’re excited about that. We’re happy to be a part of that. And we can’t thank Lockheed Martin and Boeing Corporation enough for their support along the way.”

SLS will be the largest, most capable launch vehicle ever built. It’s being designed to carry humans beyond low earth orbit to deep space destinations, including Mars, and to carry larger, more complex, robotic missions.

“The SLS rocket has so much energy, so much power … we can save years of transport time. And it’s not just time – it’s years of man-effort managing the project over those years until the spacecraft gets there. It’s a great cost savings for a lot of programs. And it advances, and enhances, our ability to gather data from these remote place,” said Troutman.

But the SLS won’t be able to travel anywhere without reliable power from the batteries that Boeing is procuring from EnerSys. The batteries will be used in the core stage and exploration upper stage on the SLS vehicle as part of the Main Battery Unit (MBU) system and the Electromechanical Actuator (EMA) battery system. The EMA battery powers the actuator for thrust control, and the MBU powers the avionics, or “brain,” of the vehicle, including navigation and communication equipment. Nominal battery performance is essential for mission success and both systems will be designed with redundant capability.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado is the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft, which is designed to launch on the SLS. The Orion capsule will carry astronauts to deep-space destinations, including the journey to Mars. Orion will be equipped with power, communications and life support systems to sustain space travelers during the journey and to return them safely to Earth.

Before Orion reaches deep space, EnerSys will play a critical part in crew safety. EnerSys is supplying the batteries for the Launch Abort System (LAS) on the Orion spacecraft. While it’s hoped that the LAS will never have to be used, the system is designed to jettison the capsule away from the launch vehicle and allow the astronaut crew to safely escape in the event of a launch emergency. The batteries that EnerSys is providing for LAS are mission critical and must perform under all possible failure scenarios.

ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems is unique in the industry in having engineered a number of innovative high voltage battery designs for formal space qualification. The batteries are put through a rigorous space qualification program including harsh vibration testing, as well as thermal vacuum testing in ABSL’s design, production and test facility in Longmont, Colorado.

ABSL has provided mission critical designs for a wide variety of spacecraft. ABSL supplied the first rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries in orbit around the Earth, Mars and Venus. ABSL batteries have also powered spacecraft for comet rendezvous missions as well as International Space Station experiments, GPS systems and interplanetary probes.

In the process, ABSL has built a strong relationship with NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), the home of the American human spaceflight program. ABSL and JSC have collaborated on battery safety research and have co-authored a number of technical papers on the topic.

ABSL has a wide range of pre-qualified space battery designs that can be leveraged for reduced cost and schedule, but utilizes the Sony 18650HC Lithium-ion cell for a majority of its missions. The Sony 18650 is the most characterized and space-proven design available. with more than 50,000 cell years in space since its initial qualification for space battery applications over a decade ago. The battery systems for both SLS and Orion will use the 18650 cell format. This Lithium-ion cell can be arranged in a variety of configurations.

ABSL pioneered the concept of “modular” batteries to promote maximum flexibility of battery design to suit a wide range of customer space battery requirements. The term “modular” refers to the assembly of cells connected in series to determine string voltage, the parallel connection of strings to form modules and where applicable, the parallel connection of modules to form a larger battery system. The battery voltage is determined by the number of cells connected in series and the battery capacity is determined by the number of such series “strings” connected in parallel.

Image Credit: ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems

Image Credit: ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems

This can be taken a step further by vertically stacking decks of cells to build additional capacity. This ability offers huge system level benefits when attempting to squeeze the maximum capacity into a highly irregular or distributed design plan.

Image Credit: ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems

Image Credit: ABSL Space Products/EnerSys Advanced Systems

ABSL has developed modeling tools specifically for the design of space batteries and has co-authored a number of conference papers with customers (including NASA and ESA) where the in-orbit performance of batteries has been compared to software predictions. The accuracy of these predictions is unrivaled in the space battery industry so that, together with their amassed launch heritage, confidence in ABSL hardware is assured. Design models include in-depth understanding and analysis of how electrical, thermal and mechanical designs work together or degrade over the lifetime of the spacecraft.

Key ABSL Milestones Include:

  • First space flight battery manufacturer to qualify lithium-ion cells for space flight

  • First lithium-ion battery to orbit Earth (ESA’s PROBA 1)

  • First lithium-ion battery to orbit Mars (ESA’s Mars Express)

  • First lithium-ion battery to orbit Venus (ESA’s Venus Express)

  • First lithium-ion battery to power a NASA spacecraft (NASA’s ST-5)

  • First lithium-ion battery to provide power for astronaut life support (NASA’s EMU)

  • First lithium-ion battery to power a comet probe (ESA’s Rosetta)

  • Powered NASA’s return to the moon (NASA’s LRO and LCROSS)

  • First lithium-ion space battery supplier to reach 100 launches

  • ABSL lithium-ion battery will power the James Webb Space Telescope