European Space Agency to send ultracapacitors into orbit

April 27, 2015 // By Paul Buckley
Europe’s leading manufacturer of ultracapacitors, Estonia-based Skeleton Technologies has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to provide ultracapacitor technology to power satellites in orbit in 2018.

The energy storage devices will be 60 times lighter and 30 times more efficient than the batteries they will replace.

Skeleton Technologies claims the ultracapacitor cells will be the first ever used in the European space programme.

While spacecraft, such as satellites, harvest their energy with solar cells, they do have to spend some of the time on the 'night side' where they rely on stored energy. This function is currently undertaken by lithium-ion batteries. Although batteries can store more energy than ultracapacitors, they are slow to charge and discharge, lose 30% of their energy through heat alone and require frequent replacement.

Ultracapacitors can charge almost instantly and deliver more power for weight compared to batteries. Using ultracapacitors for tasks such as adjusting antennae and moving solar arrays will considerably reduce the amount of weight and room required for energy storage. With every pound of payload put into space currently costing around 9,000 euros, adopting Skeleton Technologies’ ultracapacitors is expected to achieve efficiency savings for the European Space Agency.

Bernard Zufferey, PECS Manager at the European Space Agency said: "Ultracapacitor technology has the potential to increase mission safety while reducing mission costs. Skeleton Technologies’ SpaceCap cells will allow us to package a large amount of power into a very small space, creating opportunities for new applications. The contract with Skeleton Technologies contributes to the successful integration of Estonian industry with European large systems integrators.”