First in-Orbit Space Fuel Cell Tests Accomplishes: China

The space fuel cell payload onboard the Tianzhou-5 cargo spacecraft has completed its in-orbit tests, marking the first time China has conducted such tests, according to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

First in-Orbit Space Fuel Cell Tests Accomplishes: China

China first in orbit test for space fuel batteries has successfully completed. The experiment tested a number of working conditions and successfully completed all its tasks. They included testing out the battery system in space vacuum outside the China Space Station, in low temperatures and microgravity. The fuel battery payload was on board Tianzhou-5 cargoship, the last resupply mission for China Space Station before its completion. 

The tests preliminarily validated the characteristics of the system in conditions such as vacuum, low temperature and microgravity, providing important data and theoretical support for the development and key technology research of the space fuel cell energy system, according to Wan Cheng’an, chief designer with the Beijing Spacecraft Manufacturing Co., Ltd., the developer of the system under the CAST.

China first in orbit test aim to provide support for the application of space fuel cell energy systems in the country’s future major projects, including manned lunar exploration and deep space exploration, Wan said.

Tianzhou-5 was launched on Nov. 12 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern island province of Hainan.

A fuel cell combines a fuel (hydrogen or hydrogen source) with an oxidizer (oxygen or air) to produce electrical power. These electrochemical devices work similar to batteries, but they never run down or need to be recharged.

Like a battery, a fuel cell has two electrodes (a cathode and an anode) that are separated by an electrolyte. However, batteries have at least one solid metal electrode that is slowly consumed as electricity is produced. In a fuel cell, the electrode is not consumed, and the cell can produce electricity as long as more fuel and oxidizer are pumped through it.

Fuel cells are used in the space shuttle as one component of the electrical power system. Three fuel cell power plants, through a chemical reaction, generate all of the electrical power for the vehicle from launch through landing rollout.

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