PSLV-C58’s POEM3: The Stage for ISRO’s Successful Fuel Cell Test

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has achieved a major milestone in its quest for a sustainable and efficient power source for its future space missions. On January 5, 2024, ISRO successfully tested a 100W class Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell based Power System (FCPS) onboard the PSLV-C58’s orbital platform POEM3 .

What is a fuel cell and why is it important?

A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy from fuels, such as hydrogen and oxygen, directly into electrical energy through electrochemical reactions. Unlike conventional power systems that rely on batteries or solar panels, fuel cells offer the advantage of providing a continuous and long-lasting supply of electrical energy, as long as the fuel is available. This makes them ideal for long-duration space missions, such as the proposed Indian Space Station (ISS) .

How did ISRO test the fuel cell?

The FCPS was developed by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), a part of ISRO, and was launched aboard the PSLV-C58 mission that carried the XPoSat observatory to space. The FCPS was mounted on the PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM), which is essentially the fourth stage of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. After placing the XPoSat into a 650 km orbit, the POEM was lowered to a 350 km orbit through a series of controlled maneuvers. This strategic lowering of the orbit was crucial for maintaining the stability required for the onboard experiments, including the FCPS .

The FCPS operated for about 90 minutes in orbit, generating an average power of 80W. The FCPS also produced pure water as a by-product of the electrochemical reaction, which can be used for various purposes in space. The performance of the FCPS was monitored by ISRO’s telemetry stations and was found to be satisfactory.

What are the implications of this achievement?

The successful deployment and testing of the FCPS are indicative of ISRO’s forward-thinking approach to space exploration. By harnessing the potential of fuel cell technology, ISRO is not only paving the way for its ambitious ISS project but also setting a precedent for sustainable practices in space missions. The ISS, which is expected to be established in Low Earth Orbit at an altitude ranging from 120 to 140 km, will serve as a platform for various microgravity experiments, contributing significantly to space science and technology . The FCPS will provide a reliable and efficient power source for the ISS, as well as other future missions that require long-term electrical energy.

ISRO’s chief S Somnath congratulated the team behind the FCPS experiment and said that it was a “proud moment” for the organisation. He also said that ISRO will continue to explore new technologies and innovations that will enhance its capabilities and achievements in space.

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