In the future, there could be the potential to manufacture inexpensive and lightweight solar panels that can generate energy in space, according to researchers in the UK
In the UK, researchers have proposed the idea of producing low-cost, lightweight solar panels that can generate energy in space. This advancement could potentially lay the groundwork for economically feasible solar farms in space.
Researchers from the universities of Surrey and Swansea conducted a groundbreaking study, monitoring a satellite over a span of six years to observe the performance and endurance of the panels against solar radiation during 30,000 orbits. The study, which focused on this research, was recently published in the journal Acta Astronautica.
For this research, scientists from the University of Swansea’s Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER) developed novel solar cells crafted from cadmium telluride. These panels possess larger coverage, lighter weight, and greater power output compared to current technology. Furthermore, they are comparatively cost-effective to manufacture.
The thin-film solar cell (TFSC) experimental payload, developed by CSER and the Surrey Space Centre (SSC), deployed four prototype cells. The payload was launched into space in September 2016 using a cube-sat (cube satellite), developed through a collaboration between the Algerian Space Agency and UK Space Agency.
Instruments designed by scientists from the University of Surrey measured the panels’ performance while in orbit. The Surrey Space Centre and a team of trainee engineers from the Algerian Space Agency co-developed the satellite. The statement emphasizes that, despite a decline in efficiency over time, researchers concluded that their findings demonstrate the functionality of solar power satellites and their potential commercial viability.
“We are elated seeing that a mission originally intended to have a one-year lifespan has continued to operate for six years. The detailed data collected demonstrates that the panels have effectively withstood radiation, and their thin-film structure remained intact despite the harsh vacuum and thermal conditions of space,” stated Professor Craig Underwood, Emeritus Professor of Spacecraft Engineering at the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey. “This ultra-lightweight solar cell technology could pave the way for the establishment of large-scale, cost-effective solar power stations in space, enabling the transportation of clean energy back to Earth. We now possess the initial evidence substantiating the reliability of this technology when deployed in orbit.”
Solar farms, or photovoltaic power stations, are expansive solar installations that employ photovoltaic panels, also known as solar panels, to harness solar energy. They are widely acknowledged as a reliable and renewable energy source.
The concept of space-based solar power plants is not a recent development. Earlier this year, the European Space Agency (ESA) entered into contracts for two parallel concept studies focusing on commercial-scale space-based solar power plants. The initiative, known as SOLARIS, represents a significant step towards assessing the feasibility of extracting solar energy from space to meet clean energy demands on Earth.
As outlined on the ESA website, space-based solar power aims to collect solar energy in continuous and abundant supply in Earth’s orbit, untethered by local weather conditions or periods of darkness, and transmit it wirelessly to Earth where it is required. The concept complements rather than competes with terrestrial renewable energy sources, as explained on the website.
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