For decades, scientists have aimed to create the perfect model of the solar panel for the good of all of us here on Earth. Now, the study suggests that these overloaded panels may also be far away from home.
In a new study, a team of German scientists trapped four Perovskite and organic solar cells in a rocket and shot it in low-Earth orbit (LOE) to see how solar panels perform in non-terrestrial conditions. The flight lasted only seven minutes, but researchers were able to gather some promising indications of how these panels adapted to the change.
These panels did not show any real decline in functionality and even demonstrated the ability to work in low light conditions better than their heavier, inorganic counterparts. Researchers believe these skills could make them key candidates for the future of deep space travel.
The findings were published Wednesday in the journal joule.
In the paper, the research team explains that the history of flying in solar space and experimenting with solar cells has been, at best, lacking. 1959 saw the launch of the first solar-powered rocket, the Explorer 6; in recent decades, tests on solar panels in space have been done using stratospheric balloons to navigate up close to the Earth’s stratosphere. This is not exactly the same as reaching actual orbital heights.
As a result, it is difficult for scientists to extrapolate from how some of the current research can be applied to deep space missions. To get a little closer to this reality, this research team shot their solar cells 149 miles in the sky.
How it works – The rocket carrying a selection of four ultra-thin solar cells was launched by Sweden in June 2019 for a rapid seven-minute rotation around the LOE block. The solar cells on board (or rather, attached off-load) were a mixture of Perovskite and organic solar cells.
The authors write that these cells were so thin and light (2.2 lbs each) that they could generate enough electricity for energy. 300 standard light bulbs.
“This is ten times more than what current technology offers,” explains study co-author Lennart Reb, a researcher at the Technical University of Munich.
But while these solar panels can be impressive on Earth, seeing if they kept their effectiveness in space was the name of the game.
After a successful start-up and landing, in which solar cells survived the resulting physical stress, the team analyzed some promising data from solar panel adventures. In addition to maintaining their efficiency in the LOE environment, the team also found that the panels were able to operate in low-light environments where the only light source was light scattered on Earth.
The authors write that this finding not only demonstrates performance beyond current technology, but also suggests opportunities for deep space missions in the future, which may have low light conditions.
“This is a good hint and confirms that technology could get into what are called deep space missions, where you would send them too far into space, too far from the sun, where standard solar cells would not work,” he says. author and senior researcher at the Technical University of Munich, Peter Müller-Buschbaum.
While not proven by this particular research study, previous research has also demonstrated that space (which is essentially much drier than Earth) may actually be good for Perovskite solar cells, which typically face environmental degradation problems on Earth.
What to expect next – While these solar cells show many promises when it comes to empowering deep space missions in an easy and cheap way, there are many other factors that need to be considered before these cells can hit the probe. other stellar. First, the authors say that longer duration tests will be needed to see how well these panels can withstand a long flight (as would these deep space missions.) Unfortunately, seven minutes do not shorten it enough.
Another thing that future research will have to consider is the effects of the external space environment (i.e. solar and cosmic particle radiation, ultra high vacuum pressure, and large temperature changes.) With more commercial spacecraft removing all the time, hopefully this data can be collected in the not too distant future.
Abstract: Perovskite and organic solar cells possess a revolutionary potential for space applications. Thin-film solar cells can be processed into thin polymer foils that enable an extraordinary specific power, i.e., mass-achievable electricity, being superior to their inorganic counterparts. However, the search for space applications has been limited mainly to terrestrial conditions so far. Here, we report the launch of Perovskite and organic solar cells of various architectures in a suborbital rocket flight. This is an on-site demonstration of their functionality and energy generation in spatial conditions. We measured the current-voltage characteristics of the solar cell in the changing state of illumination due to the different orientations of the rockets in flight. Under strong solar radiation, solar cells perform efficiently, and they even produce power with poor scattering light reflected from the Earth’s surface. These results highlight both the suitability for near Earth applications as well as the potential for deep space missions for these innovative technologies.