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SME Innovation | A battery for a lunar vehicle

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The Center for Advanced Technologies (CTA) aims for the Moon. The Sherbrooke company is developing a battery system for the lunar mobile vehicle (rover) project launched by the Canadian Space Agency.

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After the success of its robotic space arm, the Canadian Space Agency wants to contribute to the conquest of new frontiers. In addition to a new intelligent arm project intended for the future lunar orbital station, the Agency has launched a design program for a small vehicle intended to explore the ground of our satellite. In November 2021, after a call for tenders, the preliminary concepts presented by two Canadian companies were selected for phase A of the project. As a member of the group of subcontractors associated with the aerospace technology company MDA, the CTA is developing the battery and its electrical system. His challenge: adapting – relatively – proven technologies for the space.

Who ?

The CTA was founded about fifteen years ago by engineering researchers from the University of Sherbrooke and engineers from BRP, with the aim of solving advanced engineering problems that were too risky and complex for industrial processes. standard business development.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY CTA

Located in Sherbrooke, the CTA’s head office has workshops and laboratories where mechanical, acoustic and electrical tests can be carried out.

Equipped with its own laboratories, the organization has focused on five mobility parameters: mechatronics, connectivity, lightening of structures, noise and vibrations as well as electrification, therefore batteries. He also specializes in numerical simulation.

Initially dedicated to BRP’s exploratory projects, the CTA quickly offered its services to any company wishing to benefit from its expertise.

But is it an SME?

“CTA is a company in itself, independent. It’s an NPO [organisme à but non lucratif]. All the profits generated by the CTA are reinvested in the company”, explains Daniel Duceppe, head of engineering services.

The CTA has about fifteen employees seconded from BRP, and some 25 others from the University of Sherbrooke. Salaries are paid by CTA. “Our time is 100% dedicated to the business and growth of CTA,” he adds.

We do not make simple batteries that are easily found on the market. When clients come to see us, it’s because they have very specific needs.

Éric Ménard, electrification project manager, CTA

The challenge

The Canadian Space Agency’s small rover will measure approximately 0.8 m in length by 1 m in width and almost 1 m in height. It will weigh around 24 kg and carry at least two scientific instruments.

He will have to travel the region of the lunar South Pole, where he will encounter positive and negative extremes of temperature… at the same time.

“In space, the side in the shade is exposed to -230°C and, simultaneously, the side in the sun is exposed to 180°C”, points out Daniel Duceppe.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY CTA

Prior to its collaboration for a lunar vehicle, CTA worked with the Canadian company MDA on the development of various exploration…exploratory vehicles for the Canadian Space Agency.

The vehicle must remain functional for at least 2 lunar days and 1 night, each equivalent to 14 terrestrial days, or 42 days.

To get through the cold lunar night, “you have to design a battery that is able to maintain a sufficient level of energy so that after 14 days it is still hot enough to wake up and start operating the rover again, describes Eric Menard. You have to optimize everything about the rover systems and the battery to make the most efficient use of each electron.”

This is where CTA’s expertise in the electrification of recreational vehicles comes in handy.

An earthly experience

In March 2021, BRP announced that it would introduce electric vehicles in all its ranges, an electrification of which the CTA was “the spark plug”, according to Éric Ménard’s technically paradoxical metaphor.

“Over the years, we have worked on making batteries work in all sorts of contexts,” he explains. Imagine the Far North, the desert. We have developed all sorts of ways to help heat or cool batteries in these environments. When Canada wanted to make a rover to go to the moon and put a battery in it, we had a well-equipped toolbox to find solutions. »

For the astromobile vehicle project, CTA also provides support for vehicle design with mechanical and thermal simulations.

“Simulation takes its place for a space object, whatever it is, firstly because you can’t go wrong,” says Daniel Duceppe. We can’t really do tests, it has to work the first time. »

The way

“Our challenge is to use traditional cells and traditional electronics to make a battery that will be able to survive the space environment. So lithium-ion cells,” describes Éric Ménard.

In addition to the temperature, the battery will have to face the vibrations and the acceleration of the takeoff, the solar radiations and the space vacuum.

“It is not said that there will not be typical aerospace technologies that will be used, but we must keep the concept of the battery closest to a commercial application to make it accessible in terms of lead times and manufacturing costs,” he explains.

Advancement

At the end of phase A of the project, which will be completed in a few weeks, one of the two integrators will be selected for the development and manufacturing phases of the small vehicle, with the aim of landing on the moon before 2026.

“The concept is defined, the battery is dimensioned, specifies Éric Ménard. We are halfway through the design. We will wait for the rest of the mandate to do the detailed design. Today, we already know how we are going to do the drums. »

If the MDA is successful, the CTA team will then undertake the prototyping of various sub-elements of the battery to validate the critical concepts, then assemble complete prototypes to test its operation and its integration into the vehicle.

“The last step is the manufacture of the battery that will go into space,” says Daniel Duceppe.

The future

“The battery that we are going to develop will probably find itself at the crossroads of two worlds, aerospace and automotive applications, and that will be the point where we maximize the benefits for both realities,” says Éric Ménard.

Whether its battery rolls on the Moon or not, the project will take the CTA to new altitudes.

“The development of this battery pushes us even further in digital, virtual engineering, which makes it possible to develop, simulate and validate as many things as possible before having built the smallest part, he adds. This engineering approach is going to be beneficial in all contexts. »



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