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Research - Primary Batteries

Primary batteries have a long history in space exploration, going back to the very first JPL mission. The first spacecraft launched into orbit by the United States in 1958, Explorer 1, featured zinc-mercury oxide primary batteries. The Galileo Probe, which was released from the main spacecraft in 1995 to study the atmosphere of Jupiter, featured one of the first lithium-sulfur dioxide cells. The same heritage of primary battery chemistry was by the Huygens Probe to Titan in 2005. Primary batteries were also used with the first Mars Rover, Sojourner, in 1997. Thermal batteries are used extensively for critical, high power events such as entry, descent and landing.

As NASA and JPL mounts an aggressive exploration campaign to the Ocean Worlds, new primary chemistries are needed that can support long duration surface missions, where the solar flux is very low. The JPL Electrochemical Research, Technology, & Engineering Group is partnering with battery manufacturers to develop and qualify the next generation of aerospace primary batteries, to support the NASA exploration agenda. While most primary battery chemistries are designed to operate near Earth-ambient temperatures, JPL seeks to develop new electrodes, electrolytes and cell components that are radiation tolerant and can operate at extreme temperatures.

Lithium CFx-MnO2 hybrid cathode primary battery cell
Lithium CFx-MnO2 hybrid cathode primary battery cell, developed with Eagle-Picher Technologies, for ultra-low temperature operation.
Lithium thionyl chloride batteries
Lithium thionyl chloride batteries (Saft) designed for use in the Sojourner Rover on Mars.
Transparent model of Explorer 1 spacecraft
Transparent model of Explorer 1 spacecraft, launched in 1958, indicating the placement of the primary battery (Zn-HgO cells) in the nose cone of the orbiter.