Low-cost solar cells developed by Italian company CESI for terrestrial uses can now be employed in space too.
Individually, each business-card-sized solar cell cannot provide sufficient power to do much. But interconnectors allow them to be stringed together and linked into grids, until they are able to generate sufficient current and voltage to satisfy mission power demands.
The strings of solar cells are generally bonded to panels until an entire array is built, either mounted onto a satellite body or as a deployable wing. The individual cells are protected from the harsh space environment by a very thin layer of glass, just 0.1 – 0.15 mm thick.
CESI developed these low-cost solar cells by optimising their manufacturing process. While this means the cells are less efficient than comparable ones on the market, they offer lower cost while maintaining reliability.
Their testing was supported through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, readying promising products for spaceflight.
Both the individual solar cells and assemblies have now been qualified in accordance with European Cooperation for Space Standardization standards, meaning that after some higher level qualification tests they can be relied on for future space missions.