Operating satellites, space stations, and other orbiting vehicles beyond earth's atmosphere poses many technological challenges, not the least of which is implementing adequate, sustainable power sources. NASA 's solution to the power issue, with the help of its Advanced Energy: Photovoltaics division, is solar energy.
Solar energy is the most effective and efficient means of powering NASA's technological marvels. These orbiting objects, including the International Space Station (ISS) use the same types of photovoltaic (PV) solar panel arrays that we use on Earth's surface in our rooftop solar panel systems, to convert the sun's energy into enough electricity to sustain their operation for decades. The ISS draws its power from eight huge solar panels, each 114 feet long with 33,000 solar cells. By using this massive solar energy system, the crew members of the ISS are able to operate safely without compromising quality of living.
Green Solar Technologies Founder and long-time solar energy advocate, Nicki Zvik, notes that NASA's confidence in solar inspires advocates of renewable energy. He states, "NASA's support of solar energy is encouraging, and I, along with others who support the use of clean, renewable energy, are grateful for those at NASA who are diligently working to improve solar technology, both to advance space exploration and to enhance the daily lives of all of us on Earth."
Because NASA relies so heavily on solar energy, NASA scientists are continuously looking to improve the technology, making the panels thinner, increasing the capacity of the systems and developing ways to help the panels resist dust and dirt which can reduce their absorption of sunlight. NASA has already found one solution to the "dirty panel" problem—self-cleaning panels.
According to an article posted on HowStuffWorks, NASA's "self-cleaning panels have a thin, transparent and electrically conductive layer. When embedded sensors detect accumulated dust, a cascading electrical charge is sent through the coating, in effect pushing the dirt off with electromagnetic waves."
Nicki Zvik comments, "Any advancements in solar technology that NASA develops are advancements that we can eventually begin to use for residential and business solar panel systems. I'm eager to see how we can use NASA's development of their 'self-cleaning panels' in the future, especially in sunny, desert climates."
NASA's support of the solar industry is certainly encouraging to solar energy advocates like Zvik. "If NASA considers solar energy to be its best solution to powering its technology in space, where they are also confident in its ability to work flawlessly and maintenance-free, that's the best endorsement I can imagine to use it to power our homes and business," he states.