An Ultra-Compact PV-Microcell

A new solar power generator prototype will be deployed on the first 2020 NASA flight launch to the International Space Station. The first prototype pictured here holds 90 miniaturized solar concentrators, and shows 12 solar cells with the concentrators in black. (Source: J. Gordon, BGU)

A new solar power generator prototype developed by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev BGU and research teams in the United States, will be deployed on the first 2020 NASA flight launch to the Inter­national Space. The compact, micro­concentrator photo­voltaic system could provide unpre­cedented watt per kilogram of power critical to lowering costs for private space flight.

As the total costs of a launch are decreasing, solar power systems now represent a larger fraction than ever of total system cost. Optical concen­tration can improve the efficiency and reduce photo­voltaic power costs, but has traditionally been too bulky, massive and unreliable for space use. Together with U.S. colleagues, Jeffrey Gordon of the BGU Alexandre Yersin Depart­ment of Solar Energy and Environ­mental Physics, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, developed this first-generation prototype (1.7 mm wide) that is slightly thicker than a sheet of paper (.10 mm) and slightly larger than a U.S. quarter.

“These results lay the groundwork for future space micro­concentrator photo­voltaic systems and establish a realistic path to exceed 350 w/kg specific power at more than 33% power conversion efficiency by scaling down to even smaller microcells,” the researchers say. “These could serve as a drop-in replacement for existing space solar cells at a substan­tially lower cost.”

A second gene­ration of more efficient solar cells now being fabricated at the U.S. Naval Research Labs is only 0.17 mm per side, 1.0 mm thick and will increase specific power even further. If successful, future arrays will be planned for private space ini­tiatives, as well as space agencies pursuing new missions that require high power for electric pro­pulsion and deep space missions, including to Jupiter and Saturn. (Source: BGU)

Reference: C. J. Ruud et al.: Design and demonstration of ultra-compact microcell concentrating photovoltaics for space, Opt. Exp. 27, A1467 (2019); DOI: https://doi.org/10.1364/OE.27.0A1467

Link: Dept. of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Sede Boqer Campus, Israel

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