CSIRO, Space Machines to test flexible solar cells in space

Friday, 06 August, 2021

CSIRO, Space Machines to test flexible solar cells in space

CSIRO and Australian in-space transportation provider Space Machines Company (SMC) have teamed up to test Australian flexible solar cell technology in space.

It will be the first time CSIRO’s printable solar cells have been tested in space. The agency will test its next gen solar cells on SMC’s spacecraft Optimus-1, to be launched next year by Gilmour Space Technologies.

“We will collect data from this mission to explore new applications of our technology,” said CSIRO Principal Research Scientist, Dr Mei Gao.

“Solar films are about making solar energy more accessible, on earth and in space.”

Developing Australian in-space solar technology is crucial for the country’s sovereign space capability and the growth of the local space industry, said SMC in a statement. Solar is the primary energy source in space, but space-graded rigid and foldable solar panels, the main alternatives today, are heavy and extremely expensive.

In addition to the cost, the current space solar technology is dominated by countries with a well-developed space industry, such as the USA, China and a small group of European nations. This means Australian space companies depend on suppliers that are thousands of kilometres away and are largely committed to the demands of their local markets.

Printable solar cells are usually less efficient than the rigid versions but in the future they could be an order of magnitude cheaper than traditional space-grade solar cells and exceptionally volume efficient, according to SMC.

“This is a fantastic example of collaboration between a privately funded space company and a government agency to develop the Australian sovereign capability in space,” said Rajat Kulshrestha, CEO and Co-founder of SMC.

Although the initial test will use static printed cells that are fixed to the space craft’s surface, the goal is to use solar films that are deployed with light and compact dispensers, which will minimise stowage volume on satellites.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/little_rat

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