NASA has selected four proposals to develop game-changing solar array technologies for space exploration. Don’t expect the newest technologies being tested and promoted by NASA to end up on rooftops anytime soon, but the new technologies selected by the space agency are important nonetheless as such technologies can trickle down into more consumer-friendly technologies.
After all SunPower’s technology benefitted from NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) Alliance. But NASA’s technologies are found in everyday things in the U.S from the good, old-fashioned Dustbuster to memory foam, LEDs, plane de-icing and a host of other products, like astronaut ice cream!
Now it’s focussing again on solar power as its plans fro deep space exploration into Mars and beyond move forward. The new awards are for: Transformational Solar Array for Extreme Environments to Johns Hopkins University; Micro-Concentrator Solar Array Technology for Extreme Environments to The Boeing Co; Solar Array for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High-Radiation Environments to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Concentrator Solar Power Systems for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High Radiation Game Changing Technology Development to ATK Space Systems.
"These awards will greatly enhance our ability to further develop and enhance LILT (low-intensity low temperature) performance by employing new solar cell designs," said Lanetra Tate, the GCD program executive in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "The ultimate goal of increasing end of life performance and enhanced space power applications will greatly impact how we execute extended missions, especially to the outer planets."
The awards are focused on technologies that will improve mission performance, increase solar array life, and ultimately may allow solar-powered vehicles to explore deeper into space than ever before, NASA said. The initial awards are for as much as $400,000 and will support up to nine months of system design, testing and analysis. In the second phase it will award up to two technologies with up to $1.25 million each to develop and test their hardware and they may be asked to further develop it beyond that.
These might not sound like the most home-ready applications for solar power but each could have practical terrestrial uses. For instance, something designed to withstand the pressures and demands of operating in the extreme heat, cold and vacuum of space—for decades, can probably withstand the rigors of a rooftop. Likewise micro-concentrators could develop novel ways to boost the efficiency of terrestrial solar panels without adding much bulk or weight—two things at a definite premium when it comes to sending things to space. After all it still costs about $10,000 to send a pound of weight into space.Tweet