Since its founding, EaglePicher has moved from mining to creating equipment made with mined materials and today produces the lithium-ion batteries powering NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. Next, EaglePicher expects to expand into electric aircraft and urban mobility as the demand for batteries grows.
SBJ: How did EaglePicher land the NASA Perseverance rover project?
Ron Nowlin (senior vice president of aerospace): EaglePicher’s space heritage dates to the earliest days of the U.S. space program, when we powered the first U.S. satellite. Since that time, we have powered nearly every major U.S. space program from the International Space Station, the Hubble Telescope, every mission to Mars and currently power over 600 active satellites. Our team has a deep understanding of the requirements needed to provide power in space. Space is a very harsh environment. We have to deal with extreme temperatures as well as the shock and vibration needed to overcome the trip to space. With so many successful missions, we have created strong relationships with not only NASA but other (prime contractors) leading these missions.
SBJ: Why is EaglePicher uniquely qualified to create batteries for space vehicles?
Nowlin: EaglePicher has supplied batteries for more space missions than any other company. Our space batteries have powered launch vehicles, satellites, space research missions, and manned and unmanned missions. For this one mission, we provided 14 different batteries utilizing three different battery chemistries. We provided 10 silver-zinc batteries for the Atlas V rocket launch to carry Perseverance to space; we provided four thermal batteries used to safely land the rover on Mars, and two lithium-ion batteries are powering the rover on Mars.
SBJ: The company has a nearly 180-year history in the Ozarks, starting as a mining company. How does it stay ahead of evolving technology?
Nowlin: We are each becoming more dependent on batteries. We all want more power that lasts longer; this ranges from our cellphones to our cars. While EaglePicher focuses on aviation, defense and space, we see the same transition to battery dependence in these markets. There is a rapid move for electrification in our markets, which fits perfectly with our capabilities. Asia currently supplies 90% of the total worldwide battery market. As we have seen over the last few years, this foreign dependence not only threatens our national security but can lead to disruptions in the supply chain. There is now a push to reduce our dependency on foreign sources and develop strategies to secure the U.S. supply chain.
SBJ: Why does EaglePicher keep its manufacturing in Joplin?
Nowlin: While our products make a difference, it is our people that make it happen. EaglePicher’s five Joplin, Missouri-area locations employ approximately 700 team members. This workforce includes 150 engineers, chemists and scientists and over 500 directly involved in the production, management and quality of our space and defense batteries. The majority of these jobs are high paying, technical and specialized. The type of highly skilled workforce is not easily replaced. Our five facilities provide 300,000 square feet of manufacturing. We have made significant investments in this region.
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