The US Air Force Research Laboratory (ARFL) has awarded United Solar Ovonic a $6.7 million, 18-month contract to continue the development of its ultra-lightweight solar cell technology for use in space and airship vehicles.
The Advanced Space Power Generation Group in the Space Vehicles Directorate of AFRL will administer the contract.
“Our performance goals for the next generation solar arrays include lighter, more stowable and lower cost than those currently available,” said Dr. Donna Senft, Program Manager of the AFRL Advanced Power Generation Program at Kirtland Air Force Base. “We are pleased with the performance of United Solar Ovonic’s ultralight, high efficiency solar cell technology and the progress made to date under AFRL contracts to address these goals.”
UNI-SOLAR space photovoltaic (PV) products are said to offer an ultralight, low-cost alternative to conventional space PV modules made of crystalline silicon or gallium arsenide.
United Solar Ovonic’s triple-junction modules, originally developed for terrestrial applications, are made of amorphous silicon-based thin-film alloys, which are deposited on a 5-mil flexible stainless steel substrate.
By utilising a polymeric substrate rather than stainless steel, new space cells will be developed that have a specific power density greater than 1,000 watts per kilogram (W/kg), which is higher than what is currently available.
A high specific power density is required for airship applications. According to United Solar Ovonic, the radiation hardness and superior high-temperature performance of amorphous silicon make it an attractive material for space application.