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Lithium-Ion Batteries Are The New Game In Town

By | September 20, 2004

      New advances in technology have led to the development and commercial introduction of batteries made for big GEO satellites reportedly more powerful and 30-percent lighter than today’s 600-pound nickel-hydrogen products.

      Lithium-ion batteries were put into service with the Aug. 4 and March 15 launches of Hispasat’s Amazonas satellite (SN, Aug. 9) and Eutelsat’s W3A, respectively. Further use of the lithium-ion batteries is expected as part of the October launch of the NASA/ Orbital DART satellite and the December launch of a French military satellite.

      “Getting satellites into geostationary orbit is not easy these days,” said Annie Sennet-Cassity, director of satellite sales of Paris-based Saft, a provider of high-end batteries for advanced applications in an array of industries. “To go up 22,000 miles above the Earth, every pound on the satellite counts.”

      Batteries usually represent 25 percent of the satellite’s weight, Sennet-Cassity said. By switching to the new battery technology, satellite manufacturers and operators can save as much as 50 percent of a battery’s weight, she explained.

      “If you save 50 percent, roughly 12 percent of the satellite’s entire weight is saved,” Sennet-Cassity said. “That reduced battery weight allows additional transponders or other payloads to be placed on the satellite to reach more subscribers and generate more revenue for the operator.” The technical innovation also offers a way to cut weight. Reduced weight is important as many operators seek to launch large, more powerful satellites.

      “Using the previous nickel-hydrogen battery technology, satellites were limited to a certain power level,” Sennet-Cassity said. “By using more efficient lithium-ion batteries, satellite manufacturers and operators can get the higher-power satellites that they need without launching and flying unnecessary mass. It saves on launch costs — a big expense for satellite operators.”

      In addition, the new lithium-ion technology doesn’t have to be recharged following launch delays the way the nickel-hydrogen batteries do, Sennet-Cassity told us. The lithium- ion batteries also produce less heat than did the old technology, and they don’t require as extensive thermal control systems, she explained.

      One of the big challenges for the new generation of lithium-ion batteries was to help ensure thorough testing and computer modeling so that they could remain operable for as long as the 15-year life of many satellites.

      Saft currently has contracts to equip 16 pending spacecraft with lithium-ion batteries.

      (Annie Sennet-Cassity, Saft, 410/ 568-6439)

      Saft At a Glance

      Founded: 1918

      U.S. Headquarters:
      711 Gil Harbin Industrial Boulevard
      Valdosta, GA 31601

      European Headquarters:

      12 rue Sadi Carnot
      93170 Bagnolet – France

      Vital Statistics:

      23 locations worldwide
      4,000 employees

      • Largest manufacturer of specialized batteries for space and defense applications in Europe and second in the United States
      • Biggest manufacturer of primary lithium batteries for military and industrial applications; production facilities in Bordeaux and Poitiers, France, and in Cockeysville, Md.

      Web Site:

      Source: Saft

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