CSIRO launches printed flexible solar cells into space

Thursday, 07 March, 2024

CSIRO launches printed flexible solar cells into space

Printed flexible solar cell technology developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has been launched into space aboard an Australian private satellite, Optimus-1, on Space X’s Transporter-10 mission. CSIRO is exploring the potential of printed flexible solar cells as an energy source for future space endeavours, in collaboration with Australian space transportation provider Space Machines Company. A major challenge that impedes the development of spacecraft is low-mass, high-efficiency power systems.

CSIRO Space Program Director Dr Kimberly Clayfield said the printed flexible solar cells could provide a reliable, lightweight energy solution for future space operations and exploration. “If the space flight test reveals similar performance as we’ve shown in the lab, this technology offers significant advantages over traditional silicon-based solar,” Clayfield said.

The printed flexible solar cell technology was successfully launched into space aboard Australian private satellite Optimus-1. Image credit: Space Machines Company.

CSIRO Renewable Energy Systems Group Leader Dr Anthony Chesman said eight mini-modules of CSIRO’s printed flexible solar cells were attached to the surface of the Optimus-1 satellite. “CSIRO researchers have been working for many years to improve our solar cell performance using perovskite — an advanced material that is highly efficient in converting sunlight into energy. Our perovskite cells have been achieving incredible outcomes on earth and we’re excited that they’ll soon be showcasing their potential in space,” Chesman said.

Rajat Kulshrestha, CEO of Space Machines Company, said the innovative flexible solar cells will transform spacecraft power systems and enable new possibilities for future space missions. “Through perseverance and teamwork, our engineers and scientists, alongside partners like CSIRO, have created something truly groundbreaking. We’re thrilled to integrate this groundbreaking technology into Optimus,” Kulshrestha said.

According to Chesman, in situ testing will provide information on the performance of the perovskite solar cells as they orbit the planet. The researchers will gain information on how the panels are holding up under extreme conditions in space and data on the efficiency they achieve. The team has already undertaken research on the likely performance of the cells in a space environment.

“Based on our research we expect our printed flexible solar cells will stand up to the effects of cosmic electron and gamma radiation, which can compromise the performance and integrity of traditional solar cells. We are also confident these cells will outperform traditional cells in cases where sunlight hits them at non-optimal angles,” Chesman said.

The researchers will use the feedback received from the satellite to gain insights into the practical application of the printed flexible solar cell technology, thereby informing future development. “This is a great opportunity for Australian technology to contribute to global space exploration. We are eager to collaborate with potential partners to explore this further,” Chesman said.

The research exploring the potential of printed flexible solar cells in space was published in the journal ACS Applied Energy Materials.

Top image caption: Eight mini-modules of CSIRO’s Australian-made printed flexible solar cells were attached to the surface of Space Machine Company’s Optimus-1 satellite. Image credit: CSIRO.

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