ARKANSAS, Nov 01 (Future Headlines)- Researchers at the Universities of Surrey and Swansea have conducted a groundbreaking study demonstrating the viability of low-cost, lightweight solar panels in space. This study involved the long-term monitoring of solar panels on a satellite, with observations made over nearly six years and more than 30,000 orbits around Earth.

The research focused on evaluating the performance and durability of these innovative solar panels in the demanding conditions of space. Key findings from the study include:

Robust Solar Cells: The solar cells exhibited remarkable resilience in space, showing no signs of cell delamination or degradation in short circuit current and series resistance. This demonstrated their suitability for space applications.

Decrease in Fill Factors: Over the course of the mission, a decrease in the solar cell’s fill factors was observed. This decrease was primarily attributed to a decline in shunt resistance, likely associated with specific aspects of the cell’s design.

Longevity and Durability: The study successfully confirmed the longevity and durability of these solar panels, with the technology remaining operational for a significantly extended period compared to the initial mission duration.

  • Promising Solar Cell Technology

The groundbreaking solar cell technology developed at the Centre for Solar Energy Research at Swansea University is based on thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe), which is directly deposited onto ultra-thin space-qualified cover glass material. This innovative approach offers several advantages:

High Specific Power: The technology presents a high specific power, making it suitable for space applications, where efficiency and weight are critical factors.

Cost-Effectiveness: The manufacturing process for conventional CdTe is cost-effective, aligning with the goal of affordable space technology.

Flexibility: The use of ultra-thin glass allows for the production of flexible solar cells that can be deployed using “roll-out” deployment strategies in space.

To validate the technology, four prototype cells were included as part of the Thin-Film Solar Cell (TFSC) experimental payload. These cells were deployed on the joint Algerian Space Agency (ASAL)–UK Space Agency AlSAT-1N technology demonstration CubeSat. The CubeSat was designed and built at the Surrey Space Centre, and it was launched on 26 September 2016. This practical deployment in space provided valuable insights into the technology’s real-world performance.

Related Article: Solar power satellites: technical challenges and economic feasibility

  • Commercial Viability and Future Developments

While the solar cells showed a gradual decrease in power output over time due to changes in shunt resistance, the researchers believe that the technology remains commercially viable. To address the shunt resistance issue attributed to the diffusion of gold atoms from the back electrical contacts, they plan to adopt more stable back contacting methodologies commonly used for terrestrial CdTe modules.

Dr. Dan Lamb, project manager at Swansea’s Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER), emphasized the importance of the successful flight test in further advancing the technology. This achievement opens up funding opportunities to continue developing solar cell technology. Dr. Lamb also highlighted the significance of this demonstration in expanding the market for large-area solar arrays designed for space applications.

Professor Craig Underwood, Emeritus Professor of Spacecraft Engineering at the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) at the University of Surrey and lead author of the report, expressed satisfaction with the results of the mission. The data collected from the satellite’s solar panels not only confirmed their resilience to space conditions but also marked a significant milestone in demonstrating the reliability of the technology in orbit.

Overall, the study showcases the potential for low-cost lightweight solar panels to play a crucial role in powering space missions, opening up new possibilities for space technology and satellite applications. The technology’s flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and robust performance make it a promising candidate for future space endeavors, contributing to the ongoing advancements in space exploration and satellite technology.

Reporting by Alireza Sabet; Editing by Sarah White