Amber Litke
Amber Litke
Third Place Winner, Middle School - 2009 Imagine That! Engineering Innovation
South Dakota
Imagine That It Could Be A Power Core!

towertowerIn this day of age we have many different pieces of technology that we love to use, they keep our houses warm, allow us to play games or do work, or even help us cook our food better! All of these things need some form of power to run properly. Electricity, coal, gas, solar power, wind power, there are countless possibilities. Even the astronauts on the International Space Station need to use power to keep their technology running, so they can perform experiments and keep comforts that we have on Earth while in space. The station, unfortunately, can’t use normal power like gas or coal, because it would be too expensive to shoot a rocket up every single time the station would need more power! My belief is that the object shown in picture three is a power core for the ISS that will suit its special power needs.

Normally the station runs on solar power, which is collected with photovoltaic cells (solar collectors that take sunlight and turn it directly into electricity¹). Those cells are mounted on wing-like structures connected to the station and are tilted towards the sun. However, during the ninety-two minute orbit around Earth, thirty-six minutes are spent in the shadow of Earth. During the time that there is no sun, rechargeable nickel-hydrogen batteries are used to power the ISS. The core should have two halves, one to deal with using the power of the batteries and recharging them during the solar power phase, and the other to deal with collecting the electricity made by the photovoltaic cells and distributing it around the station. Computers will have to check where power is needed, give a signal to the core to tell it to send off the power to wherever it’s needed the most, and make sure that none of the electricity goes to waste. The power transition between the two sources needs to be smooth, and the engineers who build it will have to make sure of that. Also, there must be a good amount of room inside one of the halves of core to hold all of the nickel-hydrogen battery cells, as 1,824 of the battery cells are used.

There is, however, a downside to using solar power on the International Space Station. The heat from the sun can damage incredibly important equipment, so something has to be used to cool those areas off, or one of those important pieces could be severely wrecked and maybe cause something to shut down that needs to be running at all times. The solution for that are liquid ammonia reactors. This power core could have a small section between the two halves to hold the reactors. That section could be hooked up to a computer that measures temperature readings around the station and informs the reactors that something is getting warmer than it should.

Many different engineers need to be involved to help create the core. Mechanical engineers will spend time designing the core, putting it together inside the station, and setting up some of its more basic features. Computer engineers will be busy trying to connect all the machinery together with the computers needed to make sure that the core knows when to switch between the power sources and keep track of other changes and readings. An aeronautics engineer will have to make sure that when the core is in the station, everything will be fine and that the ISS will continue to orbit properly. These engineers can choose to keep the core simple looking, however, if keeping it simple looking means that an important part will be left out; they will have to sacrifice looks. Efficiency must be at the front of all of the engineer’s minds so that absolutely nothing goes wrong while constructing the device or using it when it arrives on the station.

This is what I believe about the object in picture three, that it’s a power core that could be used to power the ISS, or other things in space, like rockets or the Hubble Telescope, or even factories down on Earth.





Power to the ISS. Gil Knier, Patrick L. Barry. January 11th 2009. <>.
International Space Station Nickel-Hydrogen Batteries Approached 3-Year On-Orbit Mark. Penni J. Dalton. January 11th 2009. <>.
Photovoltaic. Wikipedia. January 11th 2009. <>.