Johnson Space Center- Safe, High Performing Battery Designs
August 22, 2022-December 2, 2022
Final Goals of your Project/s:
My first project includes Boeing Starliner battery testing, where I help with battery assembly, testing, destructive physical analysis, and data post-processing.
My second project involves Iver battery testing and Navy battery fusible link testing. Where I complete the repair of both batteries, perform charge cycles, and perform the testing procedures as a Test Director and offhand useful data to the Navy.
For my third project, I tested using the Fractional Thermal Runaway Calorimeter (FTRC) testing and gathering thermal and pressure data to be used by Boeing.
For my fourth and final project, I was tasked to make a blast plate experimental design, compatible with battery cells undergoing thermal runaway.
Describe what you did during the internship:
During the first couple weeks of the internship, I got to assist with the development and testing of a battery used on the Boeing Starliner. In this project, I helped with testing set up and test operations, destructive physical analysis (DPA), and data post-processing. In this battery pack, there were about 432 cells that were examined in DPA for their type of rupture. String voltages, battery voltages, charge capacities, and discharge capacities were determined for the battery in Excel.
In my second project, I independently tested Iver and M3 fusible link battery batteries used in Navy and maritime applications. This project involved catching up to speed with how the Energy Systems Test Area (ESTA) runs and participating in Test Director training to perform my own tests. The process consisted of preparing a Test Plan, Test Procedure, and supporting documents to present at a formal Test Readiness Review (TRR) to the ESTA test review board. After the Test Plan and Procedure were approved, the test was performed with the oversight and participation of the Test Director.
In my third project, two other interns and I ran a calorimeter test using the Fractional Thermal Runaway Calorimeter (FTRC) Generation 11 designed by NASA engineers. The FTRC is a calorimeter designed to decouple energy released from lithium-ion cells during thermal runway (TR). More specifically, a relationship of temperatures recorded in the instrument during TR is converted to an energy release via mathematical relationships.
In my fourth and final project, I am currently developing a blast plate experimental design. This involves producing an apparatus that points a cell undergoing TR at varying blast plate materials and standoff distances.
Did you achieve your goals? What were the results?:
As I’m not familiar with battery science, the Starliner project was a good introduction to how batteries operate, blow up in thermal runaway, and why safety is a significant factor when designing battery packs. Mentions of this test have been in ongoing discussions in meetings with us and Boeing, trying to figure out a better design for Boeing’s battery, scheduled to be finish Summer of 2023.
The Iver/M3/FTRC were the most challenging aspect of my internship, as I learned heavily about the ESTA documentation process and had to be on my feet to troubleshoot a variety of unforeseen problems that sprung up during the tests. Overall, the tests performed well and the data was processed into useful information for the Navy. The FTRC test was performed without our full-time mentor/coworkers onsite. As we all were not too familiar with the small details that it takes to run the test, we can proudly say we successfully ran the test independently, troubleshooted unforeseen problems, and discussed with Boeing engineers who came onsite to witness the tests. From the time of writing this document, there is still data to post-process and runs to complete. With more and more runs, we efficiently ran, assembled, and disassembled the FTRC as teamwork grew.
Through talking with my mentor and other NASA Engineers, the scope of this project, and by extension its design, evolve with each conversation. I have learned how to better utilize Creo to generate a 3D mockup of the design, a better mindfulness for manufacturing of parts, and the process of purchasing pre-made/custom parts. So far, the project parts are quoted and ready to be purchased and assembled in the future.
Describe positive lessons learned:
Overall, I will say this internship has taught me a great deal about battery design, tests at ESTA, and independence. I knew very little about batteries and electronics coming into this internship, but I feel like I successfully conquered the learned curve. I also feel like I have gotten the hang of how tests procedures are handled, how tests are operated, how to troubleshoot, how to handle all of these processes independently, and also with a team of other interns. This internship has given me confidence in my engineering degree and an appreciation for NASA. I hope to pursue a career at NASA and in the spaceflight industry upon graduation.
Describe negative lessons learned:
Some of the things that could have been better were my knowledge of the subject matter, project mentor, and working hours. Like I stated before, batteries and electronics were not my wheelhouse before coming into this internship as an mechanical engineer. There was a lot of nervousness and confidence gained when learning about battery science. I also wish my project mentor could have been involved in my projects more often and behaved more professionally. Having more direction in my projects would have been nice and made me more productive. Also, multiple times I was asked to work overtime by my mentor and I had to say no, as that is something that goes against my contract and I want to participate in activities outside of work. Stepping up for myself in that regard took a lot of confidence.