The European Space Agency (ESA) has adopted an unconventional approach for building safer satellite systems – testing space batteries to destruction.
The three-year test campaign has been destroying space batteries through overheating, overcharging, short circuits and even shooting them with bullets!
Such extreme ‘abuse’ testing recently took place in the test bunkers of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).
The end results could help engineers develop new guidelines that ensure batteries aboard satellites stay safely inactive after the end of a space mission.
This could in turn help avoid satellite breakups, which is a leading cause for space debris.
“Of more than 250 known satellite explosions that have taken place in orbit, about 10 have been due to batteries,” explains ESA power systems engineer François Bausier.
“All the battery explosions in the past were from older technologies that are no longer used for new ESA missions.”
“Current lithium-ion batteries for space have never been observed to break up in flight, but they may well explode if thermally, electrically or mechanically abused.”
Bausier and his team thus subjected the batteries to extremely harsh conditions to simulate what they could encounter once a space mission concludes and a satellite is left drifting in orbit.
More than 200 abuse tests took place on different types of battery cells and modules as part of ESA’s Clean Space initiative.
These cells were either brand new or had been subjected to simulated space radiation and charged and discharged many times to age them.
The tests included a focus on the functioning of internal protection systems within the cells themselves in extreme conditions, such as internal circuit breakers or venting mechanisms in the event of overpressure.
Image and content: ESA-Airbus