This is a guest post by Audrey Clark. See bio bellow article. NASA uses solar energy technology both on Earth and in space. NASA conducts fundamental research in solar energy technology for uses in space, which also have commercial applications on Earth.
As part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA has a Photovoltaic & Space Environments Branch at Glen Research Center, focused on advancements in solar power technology by conducting advanced energy research in photovoltaics. This branch works in partnership with corporations to share scientific research. It offers technology from NASA research efforts to enhance commercialization and progress in solar technology improvements.
Terrestrial Solar Energy
In terms of terrestrial efforts, recently the NASA Photovoltaic and Power Technologies Branch partnered with AlphaMicron, Inc. and Sekisui Chemical Company on Adaptive Window technology to bring the technology from the stage of demonstrated prototype into making it ready for commercialization. Adaptive Widow technology gets power from solar cells of the type developed at NASA. The glass contains a tint, which is controllable. The tint changes to block or increase sunlight as needed for the interior environment of the building or home. Additionally, the windows self-regulate, adjusting automatically according to interior temperatures if desired. This is a major advancement in technology applicable for green designated buildings.
Ongoing solar energy research at NASA includes:
- Creating highly efficient solar cells from new semiconductor materials to increase efficiency from an average 14% up to 30%;
- Integrating solar power with RF communication technology creating a solar-powered communication device;
- Using nanomaterials to create thin-film solar arrays made from flexible, lightweight, polymer materials, and;
- Thermophotovoltaic energy conversion, which converts infrared radiation (heat) into electricity.
Orbital Solar Energy
Since the 1970s, NASA invested heavily in solar energy technology to improve solar panels. The International Space Station (ISS) operates entirely on solar energy. According to NASA Science News, the ISS has eight large solar arrays. Each one is 114-feet long and has about 33,000 solar cells. These solar cells covert 14% of solar energy into electricity. This is enough to power the space station, run all of its equipment and life support systems. Solar energy also powers the Hubble Telescope and satellites NASA uses for communication and for monitoring weather conditions on Earth.
NASA engineer Brian Trease developed origami-style folding solar panels for use in space. The design is for flexible solar panels. By using intricate folds, they pack into very small spaces, yet open to more than 80 feet when deployed.
Use of Solar Energy in Exploration
Power for the Mars rover comes from solar panels. According to Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the solar arrays on the rover capture around 140 watts of power for four hours of each Martian day. This solar energy powers the rover allowing it to move and recharges the two batteries, so it has power at night. Space.com reported that the Juno Mission to Jupiter, which is in progress, is NASA’s longest solar-powered trip.
A project NASA has in development is the Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array (SPS-ALPHA). This project intends to deliver electricity to Earth from a large NASA satellite. NASA will continue to explore basic research in solar technology because solar energy is a main power source for near space exploration and ultimately solves some of the Earth’s energy needs.
The advancements that NASA has made aren’t all that’s out there in terms of innovative solar energy; the corporate world has also begun its own green efforts. According to Refrigerationschool.com, Sony is working on dye-sensitized solar cell efforts. Light striking the glass panes converts to solar energy. Intel is working on microchip processors with extremely low energy consumption, which can be powered by solar cells. Apple recently received a patent for the integration of solar cells in touchscreen devices. These are just a few of the major international corporations, which benefit from solar energy and the efforts of the NASA programs.
Audrey Clark is a skilled freelance blogger covering a range of topics from careers and finance to travel and leisure, along with everything in-between. When not writing, she’s always on the lookout for her next adventure. Connect with Audrey on Twitter and Google+.