Lunar RFC Reliability Testing for Assured Mission Success 2008-01-2901
NASA's Constellation program has selected the closed cycle hydrogen oxygen Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) regenerative Fuel Cell (RFC) as its baseline solar energy storage system for the lunar outpost and manned rover vehicles. Since the outpost and manned rovers are "human-rated", these energy storage systems will have to be of proven reliability exceeding 99 percent over the length of the mission. Because of the low (TRL=5) development state of the closed cycle hydrogen oxygen PEM RFC at present, and because there is no equivalent technology base in the commercial sector from which to draw or infer reliability information from, NASA will have to spend significant resources developing this technology from TRL 5 to TRL 9, and will have to embark upon an ambitious reliability development program to make this technology ready for a manned mission. Because NASA would be the first user of this new technology, NASA will likely have to bear all the costs associated with its development.
When well-known reliability estimation techniques are applied to the hydrogen oxygen RFC to determine the amount of testing that will be required to assure RFC unit reliability over life of the mission, the analysis indicates the reliability testing phase by itself will take at least 2 yr, and could take up to 6 yr depending on the number of QA units that are built and tested and the individual unit reliability that is desired. The cost and schedule impacts of reliability development need to be considered in NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) plans, since life cycle testing to build meaningful reliability data is the only way to assure "return to the moon, this time to stay, then on to Mars" mission success.