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Hydrogen End Use – Space Mission

Hydrogen has been a cornerstone in the field of space exploration, serving various critical roles in numerous space missions. Here are more detailed examples of how hydrogen is used in space missions, highlighting its significance:

Rocket Propulsion

  • Saturn V: The Saturn V rockets, which powered the Apollo missions to the Moon, used liquid hydrogen (LH2) as fuel in their second and third stages. The use of hydrogen provided the high efficiency necessary to escape Earth’s gravity and reach the Moon.
  • Space Shuttle: The Space Shuttle’s main engines were powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. This combination provided the shuttle with the thrust needed to escape Earth’s atmosphere. The external tank of the shuttle held over 500,000 gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen.

Fuel Cells for Power

  • Apollo Missions: The Apollo spacecraft used hydrogen fuel cells to generate electrical power and produce drinking water for astronauts. These fuel cells combined hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water as a byproduct, which was crucial for long-duration lunar missions.
  • Space Shuttle: Beyond propulsion, the Space Shuttle also utilized hydrogen fuel cells to generate the electrical power needed for its various systems and for the crew while in orbit.

Cryogenic Cooling

  • James Webb Space Telescope (JWST): Hydrogen, due to its cryogenic properties, is used in space telescopes like the JWST for cooling instruments. These instruments need to be kept at very low temperatures to detect faint signals from distant astronomical objects.

Energy Storage and Experimentation

  • International Space Station (ISS): Hydrogen is part of the ISS’s water electrolysis system, which splits water into oxygen (for breathing) and hydrogen. The hydrogen can be combined with carbon dioxide from the air to produce water and methane, demonstrating a closed-loop life support system.

Exploration and Propellant Storage

  • Mars Missions: Future missions to Mars and other destinations may utilize hydrogen as a key part of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) systems. These systems would extract water from the Martian soil or atmosphere and electrolyze it to produce hydrogen and oxygen for fuel, breathing, and other uses.

Hydrogen as a Research Tool

  • Zero-Gravity Studies: Hydrogen’s behavior in zero gravity has been studied extensively in space missions to understand its properties and potential for future applications. These studies help in designing more efficient energy systems for long-duration space missions.

In these capacities, hydrogen has not only facilitated the historic achievements of space exploration but also continues to be integral to ongoing and future missions. Its versatility and high energy content make it an indispensable resource for the aerospace industry, driving innovation and enabling prolonged and distant space explorations.