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NASA contracted with 787 battery supplier for space station batteries

NASA/AP

The Japanese company that supplied batteries implicated in two fires over the past week on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner won a contract last November to supply similar lithium ion batteries for use on the International Space Station.

GS Yuasa Lithium Power Inc., the Roswell, Ga.-based U.S. subsidiary of GS Yuasa of Kyoto, which supplies the lithium batteries used in the 787, announced on Nov. 29, 2012 that it had been awarded a contract by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to provide lithium ion battery cells to be used on the International Space Station. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has a NASA contract for the space station’s power systems.

GS Yuasa Lithium Power said Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne would integrate the cells into batteries that will replace nickel-hydrogen batteries. Those batteries currently power the space station when its solar panels are blocked from collecting energy from the sun. Such localized eclipses occur 35 minutes of every 90-minute orbit around the earth.

NASA, GS Yuasa Lithium Power said, thoroughly evaluated the company’s batteries over the past three years, including tests that involved “destructive physical analyses of our cells, successful completion of cell qualification and comprehensive audits of our processes and facilities.”

GS Yuasa Lithium Power said it has extensive experience with space systems, with 68 spacecraft using its batteries.

Eric Darcy, Battery Group Lead for Projects and Integration at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in a presentation to the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Orlando in February 2012 that the agency planned to start using lithium ion batteries on the space station in 2017 and expected them to last six and half years, or 38,000 cycles of charging or discharging.

Lithium ion batteries, widely used to power cell phones and laptop computers, have been known to create fire hazards. The Fire Protection Research Foundation reported in October that cargo carriers had experienced 13 fires originating from packages containing electronic equipment powered by lithium ion batteries at their facilities from 2004 through 2009.

The FAA reported in April 2006 that a lithium ion battery fire can spread quickly from one cell to another, resulting in an explosion.

The FAA banned the transportation of lithium ion batteries on passenger aircraft in August 2007. The agency issued a special rule allowing the use of lithium ion batteries on the 787.

Aircraft regulators have now grounded the entire fleet of 787s as they and Boeing investigate the causes of the battery fires.

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