Watch: NASA’s New Solar Panels Roll Out Like A Carpet

Posted: Jun 20 2017, 7:23pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 20 2017, 7:33pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Watch: NASA’s New Solar Panels Roll out Like a Carpet
Credit: NASA

NASA tests new flexible and lightweight solar array design in space for the first time

NASA has successfully tested its new solar panels that are small and flexible and roll themselves out like a carpet. The new solar panel, named Roll-Out Solar Array or ROSA, has a potential to replace hard and rigid solar panels currently used in space.

Traditional solar panels that power satellites are fairly massive and hard with no flexibility and they also weigh a lot. Whereas, new solar panels that roll up to form a compact cylinder has significantly less mass and volume and they could potentially offer cost savings without compromising on performance.

On June 18, the new solar panel was successfully deployed from the end of the Canadarm2 robotic arm outside the International Space Station.

ROSA has been tested on Earth year ago but it was the first time the technology was tested in space. The aim was to see the effects of microgravity and extreme temperatures of space on these new solar panels. It is also important to determine whether it can withstand maneuvers of spacecraft.

“When the array is attached to a satellite, that spacecraft will need to maneuver, which creates torque and causes the wing, or blanket, to vibrate,” explains principal investigator Jeremy Banik. “We need to know precisely when and how it vibrates so as not to lose control of the spacecraft. The only way to test that is in space.”

ROSA is developed to power large spacecraft using highly-efficient electric propulsion on missions to deep space including Mars and the moon. However, these solar panels can be easily adapted to different sizes, which means they could provide power to a variety of future spacecraft

“When launching into space, mass and volume are everything, and ROSA is 20 percent lighter and four times smaller in volume than rigid panel arrays,” said Jeremy Banik. “You realize big cost savings from shaving off a little mass and volume, which makes it possible to raise bandwidth on a communications satellite and, for example, make GPS more accessible and reliable for everyone.”

As the sun becomes an increasingly popular source of cheap and clean energy, technology to make a better use of it is literally reaching new heights. NASA also uses solar panels for energy. Its new solar panel design consists of a center wing made of a flexible material. It contains photovoltaic cells that absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. The wing is attached to a narrow arm, which provides it a support.

“This structure is very thin, only a few millimeters thick, and heats up very quickly, dozens of degrees in a few seconds,” said Banik. “That creates loads in the wing that could cause it to shudder. That would create problems, for example, if a satellite was trying to take a picture at the same time.”

The payload will remain deployed for seven days before being drawn back to SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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