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NASA using solar power on next mission

2nd Nov 2011

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are continuing to lead the way in adopting solar panel technology by announcing the inclusion of solar on its next mission.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission is scheduled for launch on 15 January 2013 and will orbit the Moon in order to characterise the density and composition of the lunar atmosphere and dust environment.

A total of 32 solar panels will be built for the unmanned robotic mission by US-based producer Emcore.

NASA has a long history of utilising solar - the Hubble Space Telescope and Messenger spacecraft used solar panels for energy, while the Space Shuttle Atlantis carried a pair of
inverted solar cells as part of its cargo bay.

Solar panels used in space face aggressive conditions - far more extreme than those experienced on Earth. The exterior must withstand significantly increased temperatures and radiation, while the internal hardware must operate efficiently without human attention.

According to Emcore, over one million of its solar cells are currently powering more than 90 satellites and those featured on the LADEE mission will have a conversion efficiency nearing 30 per cent.

"The on-orbit data from these cells provides an invaluable opportunity for EMCORE to assess the performance of our latest solar cell technologies under space flight conditions," said Emcore chief operating officer Christopher Larocca.

Solar power has also been a feature of NASA's down on Earth, with its flight research centres featuring the renewable energy source since 2003.

The space agency developed a program to aid the research and production higher-output solar cell technology for the industrial and commercial markets.

In addition, NASA conducts substantial research on the concept of collecting solar power in space for use on Earth through its Space Solar Power Exploratory Research and Technology program, which began in 1999.

While NASA continues to take solar power to the skies, Australian households can also harness the power of the sun by installing rooftop solar power systems.

Homes have the ability to generate their own energy - in turn relying less on their local electricity grid, while providing a way to save money and the environment at the same time.

Now is the best time to invest in solar power, according to Sustainable Energy Australia (SEA), with a recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics finding that almost 192,000 Australian households currently access solar electricity.

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent 

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