NASA Glenn Research Center: Power management from space research

-July 31, 2013

I’m one of the biggest NASA fans going and yet I find out new things each day about some NASA division or program of which I have never heard.

NASA GRC does research in energy and power with focus on developing more efficient ways to generate, store, and distribute electrical power in aerospace vehicles and habitats. Their work includes developing more efficient photovoltaic cells, fuel cells, regenerative (closed) systems, advanced batteries, more efficient loads, and intelligent systems to combine electrical power from multiple sources and store and distribute it to a many different and varied types of loads.

In particular, for electronics, GRC develops communications technology, electric power sources for in-space satellites/probes/habitats, IC fabrication, sensors, space ship propulsion, hybrid power and MEMS.

NASA GRC dedicated engineers

Karin Bozak, an EE in the Power Systems Development Branch of GRC—Does this look like your lab bench? (Image courtesy of NASA)


Bozak works on two projects—a High Power, 300 V Power Processing Unit (PPU) Project and the Flywheel Project. The PPU involves a system that converts energy from a solar array to power a Hall Effect Thruster. The Flywheel Project is developing technologies to improve how flywheels store energy.

Frigid Heat: How Ice can Menace a Hot Engine

Watch this video and see how ice accretion can occur when an aircraft, with a turbofan engine, travels through a high altitude ice crystal cloud

Engineers at NASA GRC are studying how ice accumulates inside a hot turbofan during flight. They are working with engine manufacturers and through a specialized test facility, the only one like it in the world; they create a high altitude ice crystal cloud during a full-scale engine test.

The information that the engineers gather during these tests will help assess an engine’s susceptibility to this icing phenomenon and applied to improve the safety, performance and operability of these engines under these unique conditions.

International Space Station (ISS) radiator system

The ISS radiator system maintains the temperatures of systems and components in space (Image courtesy of NASA)

NASA Glenn’s Space Power Facility at Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio was the facility that tested the ISS radiator system. Their research supports the ISS power system, the Hubble telescope, the Mir Cooperative Solar Array and Earth-orbiting and Earth-observing satellites.

Commercial application that were developed from this research were nuclear and solar power generation, battery and fuel cell storage of energy, heat rejection using heat pipes and radiators, solid state switches, cryocoolers, heating and air-conditioning systems that do not use CFC and EVs and HEVs.

If you are still a skeptic regarding the usefulness of space research and exploration, then keep reading. Here are some developments by this group that also advance electronics in commercial areas to improve our lives here on Spaceship Earth.

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