Next generation solar cells may someday power NASA's robotic explorers

Sep 20, 2004

The success of the Mars Exploration Rovers is a sign of things to come in the realm of space exploration. Robotic technology will play an increasingly important part in NASA's new Exploration Systems Mission Directorate-one of the biggest initiatives since the Apollo Program.

NASA recently awarded Rochester Institute of Technology and its research partners at the NASA Glenn Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University and the Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center at the University of Houston $6 million as part of the Human and Robotic Technology program to study nanomaterials and nanostructure for space photovoltaics. RIT will receive $1.2 million in support of its role in the project.

The four-year project, led by Sheila Bailey of the NASA Glenn Research Center, is focused on the use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials like quantum dots-or granules of semiconductor material-to develop the next generation of space solar cells.

Scientists in RIT's NanoPower Laboratories will use plastic solar cells containing nanomaterials to try to maximize energy conversion and exploit the sun as an available power source.

"Plastic solar cells have been around for a long time," says Ryne Raffaelle, director of the lab at RIT. "We're trying to use nanotechnology to improve their efficiency. Quantum dots may be the key to improving the best crystalline cells available today and to making plastic solar cells better."

More efficient solar cells would upgrade the power supplies used in robotic exploration, improving performance and range.

"The rovers have been remarkably successful," Raffaelle says. "They are something that NASA wants to continue, but they need power. To date, these rovers have relied upon solar power and I would expect that trend to continue in the future."

The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate was established in response to President Bush's space exploration policy to send astronauts on a return visit to the moon by 2020 and to realize a manned trip to Mars.

RIT's involvement in the Human and Robotic Technology program is an extension of previous collaborations between the NPRL and the Glenn Research Center that were funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Source: RIT

Explore further: Gigantic ring system around J1407b much larger, heavier than Saturn's

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Nanotechnology changes behavior of materials

Jan 23, 2015

One of the reasons solar cells are not used more widely is cost—the materials used to make them most efficient are expensive. Engineers are exploring ways to print solar cells from inks, but the devices ...

Solar cell polymers with multiplied electrical output

Jan 12, 2015

One challenge in improving the efficiency of solar cells is that some of the absorbed light energy is lost as heat. So scientists have been looking to design materials that can convert more of that energy ...

Recommended for you

Cosmic puzzle settled: Comets give us shooting stars

1 hour ago

Suspicions that shooting stars come from comet dust, transformed into fiery streaks as they hit Earth's atmosphere, have been bolstered by Europe's Rosetta space mission, scientists reported Monday.

Swarm of microprobes to head for Jupiter

3 hours ago

A swarm of tiny probes each with a different sensor could be fired into the clouds of Jupiter and grab data as they fall before burning up in the gas giant planet's atmosphere. The probes would last an estimated ...

Mysteries in Nili Fossae

4 hours ago

These new images from the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express show Nili Fossae, one of the most enticing regions on Mars. This 'graben system' lies northeast of the volcanic region of Syrtis ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.