New Solar Cells Proves Successful on Rocket Test Flight for Space

High-Efficiency Solar Cells

Almost the majority of satellites are powered by solar cells but the problem with solar cells is that they are heavy. On the other hand, conventional high-performance cells reach up to three watts of electricity per gram. And if we talk about Perovskite and organic hybrid cells could provide up to thirty watts of electricity per gram which is ten times that amount. And now this type of cell has been tested by researching the team of Technical University of Munich (TUM) and German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Payload module “Organic and Hybrid Solar Cells In Space” (OHSCIS)
Payload module “Organic and Hybrid Solar Cells In Space” (OHSCIS)

For future generations of solar cells, perovskite and organic solar cells are promising options. With extensive examination and up-gradation in recent years, their efficiency has rapidly caught up with that of conventional silicon-based cells. Peter Müller-Buschbaum, Professor of Functional Materials at the TUM Department of Physics says the best perovskite solar cells currently achieve efficiency levels of 25 percent. He also says that these solar cells are thin, less than one micrometer thick, applied to the ultra-thin, flexible synthetic sheet, are extremely lightweight, produces 30 watts per gram.

Room Temperature Manufacturing

One of the major advantages of the new solar cells is that the earlier silicon solar cells requires very high temperature and were made after an elaborated process. On the other hand, the perovskite cells and organic semiconductors can be manufactured at room temperature from a solution.

Payload module “Organic and Hybrid Solar Cells In Space”
Payload module “Organic and Hybrid Solar Cells In Space”

According to the lead author, Lennart Reb, these organic solutions are quite easy to process. Hence these easier methods for technologies open up new fields of its applications in which the conventional solar cells were simply too unwieldy or too heavy which applies to far more fields than the aerospace sector.

Space: Test Flight

As part of the MAPHEUS 8 program at the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range in Kiruna, Sweden,  testing was held in space for the first time on a research flight for two different types of organic and perovskite solar cells. Nearly a height of 240 km was reached by rocket.

Professor Andreas Meyer, co-author, and Head of the DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space said that their MAPHEUS program allows them rapidly to implement experiments in a zero-gravity environment, offering exciting research findings. This time the research went particularly quick as it took them less than a year to progress from the initial idea to the maiden flight of the solar cells as part of the MAPHEUS 8 program.

Launch of the sounding rocket with the OHSCIS experiment aboard in the course of the MAPHEUS 8 campaign at the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range in Kiruna, Sweden in June 2019.
Launch of the sounding rocket with the OHSCIS experiment aboard in the course of the MAPHEUS 8 campaign at the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range in Kiruna, Sweden in June 2019.

Power Generation: Extreme Conditions

Professor Müller-Buschbaum reported that electrical measurements during the flight and the evaluation after recovery of the rocket showed that perovskite and organic solar cells can achieve their potential in terms of expected performance in orbit height. Hence making these measurements of great scientific value for future generations to come.

Under the diffuse incidence of light, the solar cells also generated electrical energy. Reb says that cells turned away from the sunlight, which received only sparse lighting exclusively from the earth during the flight which still supplied electricity.

The major advantage of cells is due to their much thinner thickness, the new solar cells could extensively be used in much dimmer light. One of the advantageous examples is on missions to the outer solar system on which the sun is too weak for conventional space solar cells.

According to DLR material scientist, Andreas Meyer was not surprised by the innovation as it would not be the first time that innovations are first established as space technologies are utilized in the world in other sectors. The very strict requirements that space places on all technical components are one of the reasons for this innovation.

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