New Solar Cells for Space Prove Successful on Rocket Test Flight
Prof. Dr. Peter Müller-Buschbaum (left) and Lennart Reb (right) in the laboratories of the Professorship of Functional Materials at the Technical University of Munich with the payload module “Organic and Hybrid Solar Cells In Space” (OHSCIS) in their hands.
Credit: Wei Chen / TUM
Almost all satellites are powered by solar cells – but solar cells are heavy. While conventional high-performance cells reach up to three watts of electricity per gram, perovskite and organic hybrid cells could provide up to ten times that amount. A research team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has now tested this type of cell in space for the first time.
Manufacture at room temperature
This is only possible thanks to a decisive advantage of the new solar cells: Production of silicon solar cells requires very high temperatures and elaborate processes. Perovskite cells and organic semiconductors, on the other hand, can be manufactured at room temperature from solution.
“These organic solutions are very easy to process,” explains the lead author Lennart Reb. “Thus the technologies open up new fields of application in which conventional solar cells were simply too unwieldy or too heavy – and that also applies far beyond the aerospace sector.”
Test flight into space
Two different types of organic and perovskite solar cells were tested in space for the first time on a research flight as part of the MAPHEUS 8 program at the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range in Kiruna, Sweden. The rocket reached a height of nearly 240 kilometers.
“Our MAPHEUS program allows us rapidly to implement experiments in a zero-gravity environment, offering exciting research findings,” says Professor Andreas Meyer, co-author and Head of the DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space. “This time it went particularly quick: it took us less than a year to progress from the initial idea to the maiden flight of the solar cells as part of the MAPHEUS 8 program.”
Power generation under exeptional conditions
“Electrical measurements during the flight and the evaluation after recovery of the rocket showed that perovskite and organic solar cells can achieve their potential in terms of expected performance in orbit height,” reports Professor Müller-Buschbaum. “Our measurements are therefore of great scientific value.”
The solar cells also generated electrical energy under diffuse incidence of light. “Cells turned away from the sunlight, which received only sparse lighting exclusively from the earth during the flight, still supplied electricity,” says Reb.