Solar panels on spacecraft

Spacecraft operating in the inner Solar System usually relies on the use of photovoltaic solar panels to derive electricity from sunlight . In the outer solar system, radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) are used as a source of power. [1]


The first spacecraft to use solar panels Was the Vanguard 1 satellite lancé by the US in 1958. Reviews This was Largely Because of the influences of Dr. Hans Ziegler , Who Can Be Regarded as the father of spacecraft solar power. [2]


The solar panels on the satellite SMM provided electrical power. Here it is being captured by an astronaut in a mobile space-track that runs on chemical battery power.

Solar panels on spacecraft power supply for two main uses:

  • power to run the sensors, active heating, cooling and telemetry.
  • power for spacecraft propulsion – electric propulsion , sometimes called solar-electric propulsion. [3]

For both uses, a key figure of the solar panels is the specific power (watts generated divided by solar mass array), which indicates a relative basis how much power one array will generate for a given launch mass relative to another. Another key metric is stowed packing efficiency, which indicates how easily the array will fit into a launch vehicle. Yet another key metric is cost (dollars per watt). [4]

Pour augmenter the specific power, typical solar panels on spacecraft uses close-packed solar cell rectangles That Cover Nearly 100% of the sun-visible area of the solar panels, Rather than the solar wafer circles qui, Even though close-packed, cover about 90% of the sun-visible area of ​​the typical solar panels on earth. However, some solar panels have spacecraft solar cells that cover only 30% of the sun-visible area. [3]


Diagram of the Spacecraft Bus on the planned James Webb Space Telescope , qui is powered by solar panels (colored green in this 3/4 view). Note that short light purple extensions are radiator shades not solar panels. [5]

Solar panels need to have a lot of surface area that can be pointed towards the Sun as the spacecraft moves. More exposed surface area means more electricity from the Sun. Since spacecraft has been small, this limits the amount of power that can be produced. [1]

All electrical circuits generate waste heat ; in addition, solar arrays as optical and thermal as well as electrical collectors. Heat must be radiated from their surfaces. High-power spacecraft may have solar arrays that compete with the active payload itself for thermal dissipation. The innermost panel of arrays may be “blank” to reduce the overlap of views to space. Such spacecraft include the higher-power satellite communications (eg, later-generation TDRS ) and Venus Express , not high-powered but closer to the Sun.

Spacecraft are built so that the solar panels can be pivoted to the spacecraft moves. Thus, they can always stay in the direct path of the light rays no matter how the spacecraft is pointed. Spacecraft are usually designed with solar panels that can be pointed at the Sun, and can be used independently of where the tank is going. A tracking mechanism is often incorporated into the solar arrays to keep the array pointed towards the sun. [1]

Sometimes, satellite operators purposefully orient the solar panels to “off point,” or out of direct alignment from the Sun. This happens if the batteries are fully charged and the amount of electricity is lower than the amount of electricity made; off-pointing is also sometimes used on the International Space Station for orbital drag reduction .

Ionizing radiation issues and mitigation

Space contains varying levels of ionizing radiation, which includes flares and other solar events. Some satellites orbit within the protective area of ​​the magnetosphere , while others do not.

Types of solar cells typically used

Gallium arsenide -based solar cells are typically favored over crystalline silicon in industry because they have a higher efficiency and degrade more slowly than silicon in the radiation present in space. The most efficient solar cells currently in production are multi-junction photovoltaic cells . These compounds combine gallium arsenide, indium gallium phosphide, and germanium to capture more energy from the solar spectrum. Leading edge multi-junction cells are capable of exceeding 38.8% under non-concentrated AM1.5G illumination and 46% using concentrated AM1.5G illumination. [6]

Spacecraft that have used solar power

To date, solar power, other than for propulsion, has been practical for spacecraft operating farther from the Sun than the orbit of Jupiter . For example, Juno , Magellan , Mars Global Surveyor , and Mars Earth-orbiting, Hubble Space Telescope . The Rosetta space probe , launched 2 March 2004, used its 64 square meters (690 sq ft) of solar panels [7] as far as the orbit of Jupiter (5.25 AU ); previously the furthest use was the Stardust spacecraftat 2 AU. Solar power for propulsion was also used on the European lunar mission SMART-1 with a Hall effect thruster .

The Juno mission, launched in 2011, is the first mission to Jupiter (arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016) to use solar panels instead of the traditional RTGs that are used by outer outer solar system missions, making it the furthest spacecraft to use solar panels to date. [8] [9] It has 72 square meters (780 sq ft) of panels. [10]

Another spacecraft of interest is Dawn which went into orbit around 4 Vesta in 2011. It used ion thrusters to get to Ceres .

The potential for solar powered spacecraft beyond Jupiter has been studied. [11]

The International Space Station also uses solar arrays to power everything on the station. The 262,400 solar cells cover around 27,000 square feet of space. There are four sets of solar arrays that have been installed in March 2009. 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity can be generated from these solar arrays. [12]

Future uses

For future missions, it is desirable to reduce solar array mass, and to increase the power generated per unit area. This will reduce overall spacecraft mass, and may make the operation of solar-powered spacecraft feasible at larger distances from the sun. Solar array mass could be reduced with thin-film photovoltaic cells, flexible blanket substrates, and composite support structures. Solar array efficiency could be improved by using new photovoltaic cells and solar concentrators that intensify the incident sunlight. Photovoltaic concentrator solar arrays for primary spacecraft power devices which intensify the sunlight on the photovoltaics. This design uses a flat lens, called a Fresnel lens, which takes a large area of ​​sunlight and concentrates it onto a smaller spot. The same principle is used to start with a magnifying glass on a sunny day.

Solar concentrators put one of these lenses over every solar cell. This focuses on the large concentrator area down to the smaller cell area. This allows the quantity of expensive solar cells to be reduced by the amount of concentration. Concentrators work best when there is a single source of light and the concentrator can be pointed right at it. This is ideal in space, where the Sun is a single light source. Solar cells are the most expensive part of solar arrays, and are often a part of the spacecraft. This technology can be reduced to less material. [13]

See also

  • Media related to Category: Solar panels of spacecraft at Wikimedia Commons
  • Media related to Category: Solar panels in space at Wikimedia Commons
  • For solar arrays on the International Space Station , see ISS Solar Arrays or Electrical system of the International Space Station
  • Nuclear power in space
  • Photovoltaic system
  • Solar cell
  • Space-based solar power


  1. ^ Jump up to:c NASA JPL Published: Basics of Space Flight, Chapter 11. Typical Onboard Systems, Electrical Power Supply and Distribution Subsystems,
  2. Jump up^ Perlin, John (2005). “Late 1950s – Saved by the Space Race” . SOLAR EVOLUTION – The History of Solar Energy . The Rahus Institute . Retrieved 2007-02-25 .
  3. ^ Jump up to:b NASA JPL Published: Basics of Space Flight, Chapter 11. Typical Onboard Systems, Propulsion Subsystems,
  4. Jump up^ Hoffman, David (July 2000). “Thin Film Solar Array Parametric Assessment”. AIAA . AIAA-2000-2919.
  5. Jump up^ [1]
  6. Jump up^ Solar cell efficiency
  7. Jump up^ “Rosetta’s frequently asked questions” . ESA . Retrieved 2 December2016 .
  8. Jump up^ Juno mission page at NASA’s New Frontiers ArchivedWeb Site2007-02-03 at theWayback Machine.. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  9. Jump up^ Jet Propulsion Laboratory NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Solar Power Breaks Distance Record. January 13, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  10. Jump up^ Mitrica, Dragos (18 January 2016). “NASA’s solar-powered Juno shuttle breaks record distance at 793 million km from the Sun” . ZME Science . Retrieved 2 December 2016 .
  11. Jump up^ Scott W. Benson – Solar Power for Outer Planets Study (2007) – NASA Glenn Research Center
  12. Jump up^ Garcia, Mark (2017-07-31). “About the Solar Arrays Space Station” . NASA . Retrieved 2017-12-06 .
  13. Jump up^ NASA. “Enhance Solar Power Systems Concentrators” . Retrieved 14 June 2014 .
  14. Jump up^ “Dawn Solar Arrays” . Dutch Space. 2007 . Retrieved July 18, 2011 .

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