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Energy sources for aerospace systems include electrochemicals, mechanical rotation, solar illumination, radioisotopes, and nuclear reactors. Energy is converted to power with engines, turbines, photovoltaics, thermoelectric and thermionic devices, and electrochemical processes. Although some early spacecraft flew with battery power, for longer flights the choice has been either solar or nuclear. Manned spacecraft must have power for the total mission duration including boost into orbit, on-orbit, and subsequent re-entry. Batteries are too heavy for extended manned space missions; tradeoff study alternatives range from radioisotope heated thermionic converters to hyperbolic-fueled engines. Arrays of solar cells are the obvious choice for powering space stations and for other extended-duration missions. This article emphasizes developments for space and airplane power systems. Enabling technologies are described along with significant spin-offs and future systems

Published in:

Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:15 ,  Issue: 10 )