Ascent Solar Technologies announces breakthrough in solar cells for space environments

Ascent's latest breakthrough in solar cells for space environments weighs 66% less than comparable PV systems (photo by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Ascent Solar Technologies, a developer and manufacturer of state-of-the-art, flexible thin-film photovoltaic modules with headquarters in Thornton (CO), USA, has announced a major breakthrough in power-to-weight ratio for its superlight solar module. The device delivers over 1700W of power per kilogram, operating at AM0, technically known as the space environment. At this performance, Ascent’s superlight module would weigh 66% less than a comparable PV system using the highest-quality crystalline silicon and with far less design complexity. The elimination of two-thirds of the weight is reported to be a critical improvement for satellites, space vehicles and space stations.

For space and near-space applications, power-to-weight ratio is a key performance metric. In addition to simplicity, the modules could dramatically impact cost. Depending on the application, such as low earth orbit all the way to manned flights, including contemplated missions to Mars, the fully burdened cost can be anywhere from thousands of dollars to $1M per pound for a space launch. By creating this superior module with the best power-to-weight ratio of any available product, Ascent has enabled entrance into the rapidly growing space and near space markets.

"There are several exciting aspects of this major breakthrough that make it significant for Ascent Solar," stated Dr Joseph Armstrong, co-founder and CTO of Ascent Solar Technologies. "Our proprietary technology and unique manufacturing approach is ideally suited for space and near-space applications, as we are the only producer that utilizes both flexible copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) PV and monolithic integration. Our flexible substrate is the lightest of any in production, and monolithic integration results in a cell layout that is ideal for high intensity sunlight found in the space environment. Additionally, our modules can dramatically reduce the part count by over 90% compared to existing space solar array construction, thereby making assembly of large solar arrays for space and near-space applications easier, more cost effective, and more reliable." Dr Armstrong continued, "While the design specifications for the modules were optimized for the space environment, they will be very useful for other applications such as unmanned aircraft, drones, as well as other terrestrial applications."

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