Analysis of lithium-combustion power systems for extreme environment spacecraft

Christopher J. Greer, Michael V. Paul, Alexander S. Rattner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The longest duration mission on the Venus surface was Venera 13 at just over 2 h. This time constraint was due to limited battery power life and craft thermal management challenges. A lithium combustion based power system has been proposed to increase landed mission durations for Venus and other extreme environment targets. This paper presents a new detailed thermodynamic and heat transfer model of a conceptual lithium combustion power system. Findings are applied to specify engineering requirements for potential missions. Results indicate that a lithium combustion power system using the in-situ carbon dioxide atmosphere as an oxidizer could power a Venus lander for up five days (24 h, Earth day) with 185 kg of fuel, delivering 14 kWth thermal energy continuously. Even greater durations are possible if lower power missions are considered. The potential performances of a Li-CO2 powered Stirling engine and sulfur-sodium batteries were compared. It was found that sulfur-sodium batteries would require about 1.75–2.5 times more mass to provide 1 kW of power output for mission durations of five to ten days, respectively. A lithium combustion power system with a sulfur-hexafluoride oxidizer could power a Europa lander at 94W with a Stirling engine for up to twenty days with 43 kg of reactants mass. Lithium-combustion activated Stirling engines and TEG arrays were compared with batteries to meet this power and mission duration requirement. It was found that batteries would require less mass than either lithium-fueled system. However, for mission durations longer than twenty-six days the Stirling engine power system may require less total mass than batteries. Future work will include laboratory-based experimental studies to validate results and improve heat transfer closure models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-79
Number of pages12
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - Oct 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering


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