The technology, developed at Carnegie Mellon as part of the school’s robotics research, could one day extend the range of robots operating on earth.
In addition to its applications with terrestrial robots operating away from reliable power sources, NASA's new fuel cell technology could help extend the range and mission duration of devices such as the agency’s Curiosity Rover. About the size of a small SUV, NASA's Curiosity rover is well equipped for a tour of Gale Crater on Mars. This impressive rover has six-wheel drive and the ability to turn in place a full 360 degrees, as well as the agility to climb steep hills. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA plans to demonstrate a new fuel cell that will allow rovers on extraterrestrial surfaces to go farther and last longer. The demonstration will take palce at the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland on Feb. 29 at 11 a.m.
The new type of fuel cell will extend the range of surface operations for rovers that will explore new worlds as part of future NASA missions. Unlike a conventional fuel cell that needs a pump to remove the water produced inside the device, this non-flow-through fuel cell uses capillary action to wick away the water. By eliminating the pump, a non-flow-through fuel cell is simpler, lighter, and more reliable.
The rover that will demonstrate the fuel cell in Glenn's Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) facility is called SCARAB. It was developed by Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh, under a grant from Glenn, and is regularly used for Human Robotic systems project mobility research in SLOPE.
"The demonstration will mark the first time this novel fuel cell technology is tested outside the laboratory setting," said David Irimies, project manager for the demonstration. "It will provide space exploration vehicles with a unique power generation capability and give researchers a better idea for how new fuel cell technologies such as this one perform in realistic operations."
Ken Burke, lead engineer at Glenn for the demonstration, said, "This technology was selected by R&D Magazine for a 2011 R&D 100 Award, which recognizes this technology as one of the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year."
During the event, reporters will have the opportunity to see the rover respond autonomously to commands given to it. They will also be able to talk with researchers involved in the demonstration.
The demonstration is supported by NASA's Modular Power Systems project under the Advanced Exploration Systems Program and NASA's Space Power Systems project under the Office of Chief Technologist.
RELATED: Information about non-flow-through fuel cells
Information about the Advanced Exploration Systems Program
Information about the Modular Power Systems project
Information about Glenn Research Center