Successful Test of Futuristic Fuel Cell System by ISRO

As a part of today’s current affairs, The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced a successful test of a cutting-edge fuel cell system designed to power the proposed space station. This innovative technology, named the “100W class polymer electrolyte membrane Fuel Cell based Power System (FCPS),” has broader societal applications beyond space exploration.

Space Test on PSLV Orbital Experimental Module:

The fuel cell system was tested in space on the PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM), which was launched aboard PSLV-C58 on January 1. This significant step paves the way for potential use in the planned space station.

Key Features of the Fuel Cell System:

  • Fuel Cell Operation:

The fuel cell operates on polymer electrolyte membrane technology and is classified as a “100W class” system, indicating its power-generating capacity.

  • Space Application:

The fuel cell serves as an ideal power source for the space station, generating both power and pure water.

  • Experimental Objective:

The experiment aimed to assess the operation of the polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell in space. The data collected will aid in designing systems for future space missions.

  • Power Generation Details:

During the test on POEM, the fuel cell generated 180W of power using hydrogen and oxygen gases stored onboard in high-pressure vessels.

Fuel Cell Operation and Benefits:

  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells:

Hydrogen fuel cells directly produce electricity from hydrogen and oxygen gases, resulting in pure water and heat. This technology operates on electrochemical principles, similar to batteries.

  • Efficiency and Emission-Free:

Fuel cells are highly efficient, as they produce electricity directly from fuels without intermediate steps. Notably, they are emission-free, with water being the sole byproduct.

Data Collection and Future Implications:

  • Data Insights:

The short-duration test on POEM provided valuable data on the performance of various static and dynamic systems within the fuel cell power system.

  • Future Missions and Applications:

The successful test sets the stage for potential use in future space missions and underscores the versatility of the fuel cell technology for broader societal applications.

India’s Own Space Station: Bharatiya Space Station

India is embarking on an ambitious project to have its own permanent space station named the ‘Bharatiya Space Station’ over the next 25 years. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to launch the first module by 2028, marking a significant step in India’s space exploration endeavors.

First Module Launch by 2028:

  • ISRO’s Target: ISRO aims to launch the initial module of the Bharatiya Space Station by 2028, starting with an 8-ton module using India’s LVM3 rocket.
  • Subsequent Modules: Additional modules will be launched over the next 7 years, with the goal of having a fully operational space station by 2035.

Developing Heavy Lift Launchers:

  • Enhanced Launch Capability: ISRO is developing more powerful rockets capable of lifting 20–25-ton payloads to Low Earth orbit to support the space station.
  • Modular Assembly: These heavy lift vehicles allow the assembly of the space station by launching segments separately and joining them in space, supporting potential future interplanetary missions.

Crewed Missions in the Future:

  • Robotic First Module: The initial module will be launched robotically. However, ISRO Chairman Dr. S. Somanath hints at crewed missions after 2035 once the space station achieves full functionality.
  • 3-Stage Strategy: India’s space strategy involves robotic spacecraft, human spaceflight programs, and finally, a permanent national space station.

Global Space Station Landscape:

  • Changing Dynamics: India’s initiative comes as the International Space Station (ISS) may conclude operations by 2030, creating opportunities for new national or regional stations.
  • Global Players: China already has a permanent station called Tiangong, and Russia is planning its ROS station. India’s Bharatiya station positions the country as a significant space-faring nation.

Wider Space Plans:

  • Comprehensive Projects: ISRO is concurrently advancing projects like the Gaganyaan crewed spacecraft, the Aditya solar observatory, extraterrestrial rovers, and exploring nuclear propulsion.
  • Private Sector Involvement: ISRO is involving private players in the space sector to stimulate research and innovation, contributing to enhanced launch services, satellite manufacturing, and applications for the public.

Implications of Bharatiya Space Station:

  • Technological Milestone: The successful establishment of Bharatiya Space Station would represent a significant technological leap, enabling advanced exploration and reinforcing strategic interests.
  • National Achievement: If executed as planned, the Bharatiya Space Station will be a monumental achievement, highlighting India’s self-reliant space industry guided by national priorities. It is poised to make history in space development.

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