Abstract

In 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) project office funded testing at the NASA Glenn Research Center to evaluate the maturity of the Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology and its viability for supporting launch vehicle and space applications. This technology evaluation included vibration, reactant purity, and vacuum exposure sensitivity testing. The evaluation process did not include microgravity testing. This paper discusses the vibration sensitivity testing of two air-independent fuel cell stacks provided by different vendors to assess the ability of currently available fuel cell stack hardware to survive the projected random vibrational environment that would be encountered in an upper stage launch vehicle. Baseline performance testing was utilized to quantify stack performance and overboard leak rate at standard atmospheric conditions in order to provide a reference for posttest comparison. Both fuel cell stacks were tested at a random vibration qualification level of 10.4 grms for five minutes in each axis. Low-level sinusoidal sweeps were conducted before and after each random vibration level run to see if any significant change in resonances were detected. Following vibration facility testing, the baseline performance testing was repeated. Test results demonstrated no measurable change in fuel cell electrochemical or mechanical performance, indicating that the two evaluated PEM fuel cell stacks may be suitable for space applications pending microgravity testing.

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