With increasing energy requirements and technological advancements, it is evident that solar panels need to be improvised. Future solar panels must withstand high temperatures and radiation. They must produce more power and remain affordable. It’s crucial for them to be durable in space, as replacing panels in orbit is expensive. And to fulfil this requirement, the Centre for Solar Energy Research at Swansea University launched an experiment 6 years ago. The Cube sat experiment has done exactly that! It has redefined technology for solar space farms that can produce more power than present technologies and might also last longer.
Lately, there has been a substantial surge in the utilization of large-scale space systems. The reason for this is that there is a greater need for better communication networks, more satellites, and more complicated space missions. This means that we need to build bigger and more complex structures in space. The problem is that as space systems get bigger, they need more energy, and current solar technology can’t keep up. Researchers are working harder to develop new energy technologies for large-scale space systems.
As space missions become more ambitious and demanding, the limitations of traditional solar panels designed for space applications have become increasingly evident. While these panels are able to efficiently convert sunlight into electricity, their design and limited surface area pose significant constraints. This calls for urgent development of energy solutions that are both power-efficient and adaptable to the constraints of space.
A remarkable breakthrough has emerged from the Centre for Solar Energy Research at Swansea University. They have successfully pioneered an advanced form of solar cell technology that surpasses the capabilities of existing space-rated technologies. Additionally, they have conducted an extensive six-year study to assess the exceptional performance of these solar cells in space.
Cadmium telluride solar cells are placed on thin layers of different semiconductor materials. These layers were deposited on a special cover-glass made of cerium-doped aluminosilicate. This design allows the team to make the solar cells cheaply and importantly, these cells can produce more power than current technologies.
The characteristics of this new system make it perfect for producing large panels that can cover vast areas. This will ensure that space systems have access to abundant energy resources. The team installed solar panels on a CubeSat in 2016 and launched it into a sun-synchronous orbit. They collected and analyzed data from 30,000 orbits over six years. The panels are still working and have not deteriorated in space.
The University of Surrey scientists collaborated with the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL) to design and build a satellite at the Surrey Space Center. The satellite was equipped with high-performance instruments to measure its performance in orbit.
Professor Craig Underwood, Emeritus Professor of Spacecraft Engineering at the Surrey Space Center at the University of Surrey, said, “We are very pleased that a mission designed to last one year is still working after six. This detailed data demonstrates the panels’ resilience to radiation and the durability of their thin-film structure under the harsh thermal and vacuum conditions of space.”
“This ultra-low mass solar cell technology could lead to large, low-cost solar power stations deployed in space, bringing clean energy back to Earthâ€”and now we have the first evidence that the technology works reliably in orbit,” Professor Craig added.
Dr. Dan Lamb from the University of Swansea said, “The successful flight test of this novel thin film solar cell payload has leveraged funding opportunities to further develop this technology.”
Dr. Dan further added, “Large area solar arrays for space applications are a rapidly expanding market and demonstrations such as this help to build on the UK’s world-class reputation for space technology.”
Cube sat experiment redefines technology for solar space farms and after six years the panels became less efficient over time and produced less power. The team plans to improve this in the future. However, they still believe that their technology will be commercially viable based on the current results.