Power source for deep space mission

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Publication date: 1 April 2000



(2000), "Power source for deep space mission", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 72 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/aeat.2000.12772bab.049



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Power source for deep space mission

Power source for deep space mission

Keywords: AEA Technology, Space travel, Power'supply

The European Space Agency is planning to land a craft on the surface of a comet for the first time in one of the most difficult space missions ever undertaken.

In 2003 the Rosetta spacecraft will be carried into orbit by the Ariane 5 rocket to begin its ten-year mission to rendezvous with comet Wirtanen. The mission aims to increase our understanding of the Universe and will also help scientists understand the potential threat from comets.

AEA Technology, a recognised world leader in battery technology, and the British National Space Centre have been jointly developing a new power source for spacecraft since 1997 in the UK National Space Battery Programme. The Rosetta will be the first European Space Agency mission to be powered by the new lithium-ion rechargeable space batteries which have been developed by the programme.

Rosetta will orbit the Earth and several other planets as it picks up speed before being catapulted out into deep space. The three lithium-ion battery modules will power the spacecraft during periods of the flight when it is hidden from the sun. At other times solar power will be used to operate the craft and recharge the batteries.

When it rendezvouses with the comet it will go into orbit and send back initial data about its composition. After the initial data are collected the Rosetta Lander landing craft will be launched from Rosetta to land on the comet. Rosetta Lander will be powered by French-made primary batteries during the landing and collection of the initial data. When these stop working, secondary lithium-ion batteries made by AEA Technology will then begin operating the instruments to collect additional data for a period of around four to six months. This combination of batteries has been chosen to maximise the scientific return from the mission.

The lithium-ion space batteries offer significant advantages over more traditional nickel cadmium batteries. They are more than 50 per cent smaller and lighter than their nickel cadmium equivalent and this will leave more space on Rosetta for the valuable scientific equipment.

AEA Technology has won a £500,000 contract from Matra Marconi Space to supply the batteries for Rosetta and another £100,000 contract from the French space agency CNES to supply batteries for Rosetta Lander.

Details available from AEA Technology plc. Tel: +44 (0) 1235 43 3612; Fax: +44 (0) 1235 43 6656.