NASA's Glenn Research Center used the Scarab robot developed by the Robotics Institute to demonstrate a new fuel cell for the first time outside of a laboratory setting.
The new type of fuel cell will extend the range of surface operations for rovers that will explore new worlds as part of future NASA missions. Unlike a conventional fuel cell that needs a pump to remove the water produced inside the device, this non-flow-through fuel cell uses capillary action to wick away the water. By eliminating the pump, a non-flow-through fuel cell is simpler, lighter, and more reliable.
"It will provide space exploration vehicles with a unique power generation capability," said David Irimies, project manager for the demonstration. The demonstration in Glenn's Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) facility gave researchers "a better idea for how new fuel cell technologies such as this one perform in realistic operations," he added.
Scarab is regularly used for Human Robotic systems project mobility research in SLOPE. It serves as a terrestrial testbed for technologies that would be used to explore craters at the moon’s southern pole, where a robot would operate in perpetual darkness at temperatures of minus 385 degrees Fahrenheit. The rover features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables it to negotiate sandy, rock-strewn inclines and to lower its 5 ½-foot by 3-foot body to the ground for drilling operations.