What does one super car battery say to the other five?

Don’t get short with me.

One of the many goals of radio astronomy is collecting data from remote signals while ignoring terrestrial traces. The best way to do this is to position the instruments in isolated areas, but doing so brings up another problem.  Some of the environments that are best suited to collect data are also out of the reach of traditional electric grids and thus, dependable power.  Our solution to this problem are four photovoltaic panels that provide reliable and renewable energy. This has to be constructed alongside a system that will monitor its important characteristics (array power, battery voltage, temperature, etc.) remotely.

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My project was to create this system as part of an ongoing experiment in Western Australia and possibly for a new deployment on a remote Pacific island.  While four PV panels might feel like a comfortable bet for a small array of instruments – there still needs to be a place where all the power is stored. This duty is performed by six ‘super car batteries’. They weren’t removed from a caped, crime-fighting car but are dubbed ‘super’ simply because of their high electric charge capacity. You see, a typical car battery holds around 60 Ah (ampere-hours).  These guys get 110 Ah.  Unfortunately, they probably didn’t come from Krypton.

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Connecting these components requires both caution and patience.  Each lead-acid battery is just over 60 lbs – bringing the total to more than 375 lbs! Obviously, dropping or heat exposure is not advised. For housing, we a use a weatherproof dock box. A big concern when hooking up so many batteries is an electric short. But, you can’t really electrocute yourself with something at this low voltage (12V). Touching the terminals with your bare hands will result in no harm.  Instead, dropping something like a chrome plated wrench on the polar ends will cook up a big spark and will cause the batteries to heat up quickly.

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No need for worry! We’ve established several redundancies to prevent any of these hazards.  Among other things, the terminals and wires are completely covered and restrained from wiggling around.  As a matter of fact, the system – the Remote Solar Power and Monitoring System – is just about done.  All major components and wires are already secured and labeled.  In a week’s time, it should be tanning on the roof enjoying the nice Arizona sun.  Up, up, and away!

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