Battery technology developed by QinetiQ-led team plays key role in Foton-M3 mission

01 Oct 2007

A battery developed by a QinetiQ-led consortium including ABSL Space Products (ABSL) has successfully powered key scientific payloads during the final stages of the Foton-M3 mission into space.

Foton-M3 is a Russian unmanned spacecraft that was launched on 14 September from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was launched into orbit by a Soyuz-U rocket, a direct descendant of the launcher that put Sputnik 1 into space 50 years ago this week.

The recoverable spacecraft carried a payload of more than 40 European Space Agency (ESA) experiments. During the twelve day mission a series of microgravity experiments were conducted that will contribute to advances in many areas of scientific research.

The battery supplied by the QinetiQ-led team was the sole power source during the re-entry, landing and recovery phases of the mission. It ensured the integrity of the experiments while the recoverable capsule re-entered the atmosphere and landed in semi-desert near the Russian-Kazakh border on 26 September.

Josef Winter, Head of ESA's Payload and Microgravity Platform Division said in an ESA statement: "I am extremely pleased with the success of the Foton-M3 mission. All operations during the mission were flawless. The hard work and dedication of all involved has contributed to make this mission a success."

The battery consisted of two identical modules of 27 lithium sulphuryl chloride cells with sufficient stored energy to power the payloads for more than 12 hours. The stored energy ensured the successful retrieval of biological samples at the landing site by the ESA team and of the other experiments once they had been flown by helicopter to the Soyuz factory in the Russian city of Samara.

Among the payloads supported by the battery were the Aquahab experiment, an aquatic habitat used to observe the effects of weightlessness on single cell organisms and fish, and Biobox, a payload consisting of two programmable incubators to study the effects of weightlessness on bone-forming cells and the damaging effects of space radiation on skin tissue.

QinetiQ and ABSL developed the 5.4 kWh battery over an eighteen month period. The two battery modules have a capacity 90 ampere-hours each, an energy density well in excess of 300Wh/kg and a voltage at beginning of discharge of 35 volts.

QinetiQ was responsible for the overall management of the programme, including the selection of the battery chemistry and cell size to ensure the battery survived the rigours of re-entry and landing when Foton-M3 experienced extremely high temperatures and g-force as high as 40g. ABSL conducted the majority of the physical assessment of the cells as well as battery pack design, assembly and qualification.

Kevin Brundish, Manager of QinetiQ's power sources business said: "Working with ESA allows us to prove our advanced portable power technologies in the demanding environment of space. For the Foton-M3 mission we examined the full spectrum of battery chemistries to deliver a battery that made a vital contribution to the success of the onboard experiments."

QinetiQ has over 40 years experience in the development of power storage systems and has previously delivered a demonstrator primary battery to ESA for potential use on a lander mission to the planet Mercury.

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Battery technology developed by QinetiQ-led team plays key role in Foton-M3 mission