Solar Panels in Space

Thought Leadership

Solar Panels in Space

James Birkinshaw
3 min read

The benefits from solar panels reach much further than rooves on Earth. In fact, solar power is the most important power source in space – from launched satellites to lived-in space stations. But are astro-solar-panels much different to solar panels down under? Our solar experts look at the differences below.


Big Differences in Space Solar Panels

Back on Earth, residential and commercial solar panels rely on the photovoltaic effect to generate energy. They achieve this by using materials like silicone that absorb photons and release electrons – this creates electricity. Solar panels in space do the same thing, they’re just designed for a different environment and purpose.

Watt Power

While power output is an important factor for us on Earth, it’s a crucial factor for spacecraft. The International Space Station (ISS) runs completely on solar power, so it needs highly efficient panels and batteries to keep everything powered – from life-support systems to onboard science experiments.

The high-tech solar array on the ISS produces between 84 and 120 kW of electricity – that could safely power over 30 Australian homes.

Shape and Mass

Spacecraft aren’t limited by the size of a roof – they’re able to reach out with expansive solar arrays that float in the vacuum. But they are limited by their packing size and mass. Launching solar panels into space is difficult and expensive. With limited storage on space shuttles and the insane price-per-kg, space solar panels need to be compact and light.

The blanket solar array on the ISS can be folded up for launch and then span across 2.5 km2. The full system also weighs a couple dozen metric dozens, but was put together over multiple launches.

Harsh Radiation

There aren’t any grey clouds or bird droppings in space, but there is strong radiation. Earth’s atmosphere protects rooftop solar panels from radiation, but solar arrays in space are in the firing line. This can lead to a consistent degradation of the electrical components in the system.

Many solar panels on spacecraft utilise gallium arsenide-based solar cells. They’re more efficient than regular crystalline silicon and offer better protection against radiation.

Finding the best solar panel – wherever you are – comes down to matching a system to individual needs and environments. While our solar specialists don’t make trips into space, we do help homes back on Earth find their solar solution. Just get in touch with our Brisbane solar panel installers today and we’ll send you an obligation-free quote.

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James Birkinshaw

General Manager of Pedleys Solar.

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