NASA will test energized structures

Instead of loading bulky batteries on weight-sensitive satellites, NASA will try making structural pieces of satellites themselves hold the energy.

Boundless Corp. of Boulder, Col., developed the energized structures technology NASA will test.

'They are batteries,' said John Olson, Boundless' vice president of technology. 'Depending on what size and shape you needed, we would make the battery in that size and shape.'

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has ordered a number of energized-structure prototypes and is considering them for use on several dozen microsatellites. NASA plans to launch the satellites, known as the Magnetospheric Constellation, early in the next decade.

The satellites will measure radiation in the Van Allen belt above Earth's atmosphere. The Boundless structures, which could serve as pieces of each satellite's frame, would store energy generated from solar panels.

The Missile Defense Agency awarded small-business innovation research grants to Boundless to develop the technology. The company plans to offer the structures to manufacturers of spacecraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and other large machines. The technology is particularly appropriate for satellites, Olson said, because the weight saved by not carrying separate batteries will reduce launch costs.

The structures themselves are made from carbon composites, Olson said. Parts of the composites are saturated with a resin to strengthen the material. A structure weighing 1 kilogram could hold 200 watts of energy, or 100 watts more than a standard lithium-ion cell batteries of the same weight, Olson said.

Besides the NASA work, the company is also designing prototypes for the Air Force's Innovative Space-Based Radar Antenna Technology demonstrator, a prototype space-based radar to track ground activity.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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