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NASA and Germany are about to refresh their climate science satellites

Cassini might have gotten a very emotional send-off at the close of its 20-year journey, but it’s not the only long-term space mission being retired this season. Today, the joint NASA-German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) has ended operations after 15 years, three times longer than expected. Its mission: Precisely measure Earth’s gravitational field from a pair of satellites.

Both satellites were needed for GRACE to perform its mission, so when yet another of GRACE-2’s batteries failed and contact was lost in September, the writing seemed to be on the wall. The mission team worked heroically to bring it back online for one final data transmission, but it wasn’t enough power to operate the scientific instruments onboard.

Without fuel, GRACE-2 will dip Earthward and reenter the atmosphere in mid-to-late November, with some burning up and other parts plummeting to the ground with minimal risk. The team will eke all the data they can from GRACE-1 to close out the mission before it, too, sinks into the atmosphere in early 2018.

“We look back with pride and gratitude on the GRACE mission” said Prof. Dr. Reinhard Hüttl, Scientific Executive Director and Chairman of the Board at the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ), in a statement. “During the 15 years of the mission operation, the satellite tandem has measured the gravity field of the Earth and its variations in a highly precise manner, which helps us, for example, to accurately document changes in groundwater storage or in glacial retreat. Furthermore, the resulting influence on sea level rise can be detected thanks to the GRACE measurements. The mission has, thus, substantially contributed to a better understanding of the system Earth.”

But don’t get too broken up over spilled satellites. The successor mission, aptly named GRACE Follow-On, will begin in early 2018 with a pair of replacements riding a Falcon 9 to take over for the old GRACE spacecrafts.

Source: Phys.org

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Existing EV batteries could be recharged five times faster

Lithium-ion batteries have massively improved in the last half-decade, but there are still issues. The biggest, especially for EVs, is that charging takes too long to make them as useful as regular cars for highway driving. Researchers from the University of Warwick (WMG) have discovered that we may not need to be so patient, though. They developed a new type of sensor that measures internal battery temperatures and discovered that we can probably recharge them up to five times quicker without overheating problems.

Overcharging a lithium-ion battery anode can lead to lithium buildup, which can break through a battery's separator, create a short-circuit and cause catastrophic failure. That can cause the electrolyte to emit gases and literally blow up the battery, so manufacturers impose strict charging power limits to prevent it.

Those limits are based on hard-to-measure internal temperatures, however, which is where the WMG probe comes in. It's a fiber optic sensor, protected by a chemical layer that can be directly inserted into a lithium-ion cell to give highly precise thermal measurements without affecting its performance.

The team tested the sensor on standard 18650 li-ion cells, used in Tesla's Model S and X, among other EVs. They discovered that they can be charged five times faster than previously thought without damage. Such speeds would reduce battery life, but if used judiciously, the impact would be minimized, said lead researcher Dr. Tazdin Amietszajew.

Faster charging as always comes at the expense of overall battery life but many consumers would welcome the ability to charge a vehicle battery quickly when short journey times are required and then to switch to standard charge periods at other times.

There's still some work to do. While the research showed the li-ion cells can support higher temperatures, EVs and charging systems would have to have "precisely tuned profiles/limits" to prevent problems. It's also not clear how battery makers would install the sensors in the cells.

Nevertheless, it shows a lot of promise for much faster charging speeds in the near future. Even if battery capacities stayed the same, charging in 5 minutes instead of 25 could flip a lot of drivers over to the green side.

Via: Clean Technica

Source: University of Warwick

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