Why Launch Solar Panels When You Can Print Them Directly In Space? Printing Perovskite Panels

Why Launch Solar Panels When You Can Print Them Directly In Space? Printing Perovskite Panels


solar energy is the ideal way to power a
spacecraft there’s no weather there’s no pesky
atmosphere just pure photons streaming from the Sun to harvest for whatever you
need well as long as you’re within the inner solar system but solar panels are
complicated and fragile made of sensitive electronics and glass and not
to mention really heavy any spacecraft equipped with solar panels needs to
handle the gravity down here on earth for the construction and testing then
the shaking and high G’s of launch the solar panels need to unfold perfectly
once they get to space and the total amount of energy you can harvest is
limited by the size of your rocket launch fairing maybe there’s a new
strategy NASA is currently funding research into a new type of solar panel
that can be carried into space as a liquid and then sprayed onto a surface
we’ve talked in previous videos about how important space-based manufacturing
and construction is going to be ideally you’d want the raw materials from space
but until that happens it still makes a lot of sense to carry your resources
back tightly in a rocket and then assemble as big a structure as you need
once you’re in space maven spaces are Connaught one is set to demonstrate how
it should be possible to 3d print the structures that hold the spacecraft
solar panels but it’s still gonna be deploying traditional solar cells NMIT
has shown how tiny robots working together as teams could assemble
space-based structures of almost any size but the assumption has been that
the more complicated electronics solar panels and other hardware will still
need to come from the earth until we have serious space-based manufacturing
in place traditional solar panels or photovoltaics directly convert light
into electricity harnessing the photoelectric effect when atoms absorb
photons of light they can release electrons a solar panel collects these
electrons and puts him to work Albert Einstein earned his Nobel Prize in 1905
explaining how this process worked and in the 1950s engineers were making the
first two rudimentary photovoltaic modules
this technology was perfect for the space industry which needed a way of
generating electricity beyond the reach of the longest extension cords modern
solar panels are really just electronics large numbers of solar cells are
connected together into panels and they generate current depending on how much
light is falling on them advances in solar energy technology have sandwich
several layers of solar cells together typically different flavors of gallium
arsenide with each layer extracting energy from different photon wavelengths
the most modern solar panels in use by NASA today typically have three layers
and can convert 34% of sunlight into electricity but they’re working on
versions with four and even six layers that could convert even a higher
percentage there’s an entirely different technology called perovskite solar
panels which might enable spray printed panels in space per EPS kites are
crystals with a cube like lattice structure which can harvest photons
they’re less efficient than photovoltaics providing just over 10
percent electricity from sunlight and unfortunately they’re also incredibly
sensitive to moisture and oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere but they have their
advantages the crystals don’t need to be wired up like electronics they can just
be produced in large sheets researchers from Rice University announced this week
that they’ve been able to overcome some of the downsides of perovskite crystals
using different materials that resulted in fewer defects they were able to make
panels with an efficiency of 12% and a voltage of 1.2 volts even better the
panel’s were able to stand up to a high humidity environment for months without
degrading while traditional crystals decayed within a few days the
researchers think they can get them up to 20% efficiency over time eventually
we should get to a point that this material can just be sprayed onto any
surface let it dry and you’ve got a solar panel of any size so what about
using them in space I’ll get to that in a second but first I like to thank Jules
Verne Steve Rehberg reader and the rest of our 830 patrons
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professor cyant ani gosh and the students at University of California
Merced have developed a process for spraying liquid parofsky crystals over a
surface like the technology inside an inkjet printer a small nozzle deposits
the material as a film about 250 times thinner than a human hair onto a
substrate that provides the structure of the panel according to a press release
from UC Merced just a single leader of prof. skite solution could cover a
football field sized sheet of solar absorbers in space I mentioned the
disadvantages of profs kites they’re a salt crystal and very sensitive to
moisture here on earth the crystals need to be encased in plastic to protect them
from the environment but moisture isn’t a factor in space or on the moon so it
could be the perfect place to print them directly the UC Merced team is still
testing this technology down here on earth but they recently received a grant
from NASA to adapt this method to space missions one of the big unknowns is how
well these thin films of crystals will hold up to space itself as spacecraft
pass from light to darkness they experience extreme temperature changes
and they still don’t know how they’ll handle degradation in the unfiltered
sunlight the next step will be to perform tests at NASA’s Glenn Research
Center they have spacecraft torture chambers
called the vacuum facilities they’re capable of simulating the vacuum
temperature extremes and solar flux of space and if the technology passes these
tests the next step will be for some of the crystals to fly to the International
Space Station as part of the materials International Space Station experiment
13 and there’ll be more testing over the next couple of years if successful this
technology could be part of NASA’s Artemis project to the moon providing
power to the astronauts as they perform longer stays on the lunar surface
obviously I’m super excited by any developments that could enable more
space-based manufacturing and assembly and if there’s actually a way to inkjet
print solar panels in space it could significantly change the way spacecraft
are built and launched imagine a spacecraft carrying raw plastic and prof
skate fluid and then 3d printing the structure and solar panel film at the
same time building solar panels as big as it needs solar panels that never
experienced earth gravity or the launch so I’ll let you know want to hear of any
updates what do you think let me know your thoughts in the comments here are
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I talked briefly about the our Connaught spacecraft that’s gonna 3d print its
solar panel structure in space if you want to learn more about that we did a
whole video on it you can watch that here