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Solar car powers through Europe

14 Nov 2002

Members of the public have a chance to see Nuna, the record-breaking solar-powered car, as it tours Europe.

Nuna is not your average car. Not only is it powered by solar cells that will make their space debut next year, it also won last year's World Solar Challenge across Australia.

Now, members of the public will have the chance to the see the remarkable car and the solar cells that helped power it to victory as it tours Europe. The tour will take in 35 major cities in 12 countries across the continent. (Tour dates and venues)

Unfortunately, visitors will not get to see the car in action. But along with audio and visual demonstrations, two members of the winning Alpha Centauri team from the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands will be present to answer questions about the car.

Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), the solar cells have an efficiency of 24% and were given to the Alpha Centauri team as part of ESA's technology transfer program. Next year, the cells will be used in ESA's SMART-1 lunar mission. This mission will test solar-electric propulsion, preparing new technology for ESA's mission to Mercury.

Nuna uses 36 solar panels allowing it to reach speeds of 160km/h. This allowed the car to break three world records on the road to winning the solar challenge. The team completed the race in just less than four days rather than the usual five. The car also covered the most ever kilometers in one day, 830 km, and is the first newcomer to win the race.

Based on a dual or triple junction structure, the cells consist of either two or three layers of gallium arsenide. "In the triple GaAs structure, each layer converts a separate part of the light spectrum into energy," said a spokesperson for ESA. "This makes the cells more efficient."

Jacqueline Hewett is news reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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