United States Air Force
Air Force Material Command

January 12, 1998


Space power engineers here at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate are pretty charged up over the success of battery tests performed recently aboard the space shuttle.

Tests this past November were the high point in a program to develop a sodium-sulfur battery cell that is lighter, more durable, and more powerful than current state-of-the-art nickel-hydrogen batteries that run many spacecraft today, such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

Resembling a rolling pin in size and shape, the new battery cell weighs half as much and generates nearly three times the specific power of nickel-hydrogen technology, or 150 watt hours per kilogram of battery weight. Moreover, sodium-sulfur costs half as much as nickel-hydrogen and is more reliable due to simpler design.

According to program manager 1st Lt. Chuck Donet, "This is the first time sodium-sulfur battery technology has performed in space, and we are very pleased with the test results. This powerful battery cell exceeded our expectations and its success proves that it is a clear choice for future space missions."

Because of its great power potential in a smaller package, a sodium-sulfur battery may weigh several hundred pounds less than its nickel-hydrogen equivalent. This fact translates into a meaningful cost savings given that launch expenses per pound today average about $20,000.00.

Donet and his associates teamed with the Eagle Pitcher Company of Joplin, Mo., the Naval Research Laboratory, and NASA to provide a new generation of batteries to military and commercial spacecraft designers.

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