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CIGS solar modules arrive at International Space Station for evaluation

19 Nov 2018

NASA set to test Ascent Solar samples for potential use in CubeSat missions.

Small photovoltaic modules based on copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) material have arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), representing one of several new experimental payloads launched November 17 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

Developed by the US company Ascent Solar, the modules are part of the latest “Materials International Space Station Experiment” (MISSE-X) research mission, delivered to the ISS on board a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship.

Ascent says that NASA is evaluating the potential of the flexible PV modules for various missions, including CubeSats and future visits to the moon and Mars. The Thornton, Colorado, firm claims that the CIGS modules could prove ideal for deep-space missions, and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has previously tested the technology.

Co-founder and CTO Joseph Armstrong said: “Our flight on MISSE-X represents a significant milestone towards the acceptance of our flexible, lightweight, monolithically integrated CIGS in the challenging and very discriminating space market.

“Actual flight experience is crucial for these markets, and MISSE X allows us to demonstrate our monolithically-integrated flexible CIGS for the first time. We anticipate that the experiment will be attached onto the [ISS] for a year or more and will be returned to Earth for further evaluation.”

Armstrong adds that Ascent has been working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for several years on product development for space deployments. The micro-modules developed for MISSE-X, measuring just half an inch by two inches in size, are a compact version of the company’s standard space products.

Featuring six solar cells monolithically integrated in series, the design is said to share all the standard features of the standard modules. “At this size, NASA is able to include several [Ascent Solar] samples to be exposed to the same space conditions with different protective space coatings,” announced the firm.

CubeSat arrays
Ascent’s CEO Victor Lee said: “Developing a PV module capable of integrating into a deployable array for CubeSats and future exploration missions puts us in a very unique position in the industry to answer the needs of these future markets. This is a significant milestone for the company in our pursuit of the specialty, high-value PV market.”

Co-ordinated by principal investigators John Carr and Miria Finckenor from NASA Marshall, the “High Efficiency, Low-Mass Solar Cell Systems” experiment passively exposes candidate solar cells to the space environment.

The experiment features thirty solar cells, divided into three major configurations along with three films and a radiation dosimeter (a device used to measuring ionizing radiation) on the zenith-facing side of the Materials International Space Station Experiment-Flight Facility (MISSE-FF).

The Cygnus vehicle carrying the various experiments docked with the ISS early on 19 November 2018, after being guided into position by the robot arm on board the space station.

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