January 12, 1998
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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