NASA is set to send a prototype of an Israeli-developed miniaturized solar-power generator to the International Space Station (ISS) in its first launch of 2020.
The solar- power generator is designed by Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Gordon of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), along with his US colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University, University of Illinois, George Washington University, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, H-NU Systems, and Northwestern University, a BGU statement said Sunday.
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Its design and verification were published in the journal Optics Express.
The generator will be sent for testing under cosmic radiation and the enormous temperature swings in extraterrestrial operation.
The prototype is said to offer a “major step forward for commercial space missions” because of a need “to invent and demonstrate feasible innovative solar solutions” that are ultra-compact and can affordably enhance specific power (watts per kilogram.)
Prof. Gordon’s research is funded by a grant from the Israel Ministry of Science, Technology & Space.
BGU’s prototype is a compact, low-mass, molded-glass solar concentrator bonded to a monolithic integration of transfer-printed micro-scale solar cells, the university said. Each of these solar cells comprises several different materials that together “can efficiently exploit most of the solar spectrum.”
The prototype’s “special virtue” is its liberal optical tolerance for accommodating errors in pointing at the sun, structural vibration, and thermal distortion, while providing unprecedented specific power.
The first-generation prototype is less than 1.7 mm thick with solar cells that are only 0.65 mm on a side.
A second generation that can increase specific power even further is now being designed by the same team at the US Naval Research Labs.
Future prototypes are being planned for private space initiatives as well as space agencies pursuing new missions that require high power for electric propulsion and for operation in deep space (such as missions to Jupiter and Saturn).