Aerospace group Vanguard Space Technologies has selected the lightweight thin-film PV modules of Colorado-based Ascent Solar Technologies for a space solar array research program being conducted with NASA.
The California-based Vanguard specializes in the engineering and manufacturing of high-performance, lightweight and precision aerospace structures, including spacecraft and solar power systems for commercial, defense, military and research satellites. The company will use Ascent’s copper-indium-gallium-selenium (CIGS) cell technology in its work with the NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, which aims to develop economical, lightweight alternatives to existing and emerging high-cost solar arrays for high-power space applications.
Vanguard is employing proprietary space environment protection technology along with an automated manufacturing process to create an ultra-thin large space solar array with a high power-to-weight ratio. Ascent’s space-optimized CIGS cells will make construction of the arrays possible, according to the companies.
"Existing and emerging space solar cell technologies, particularly when utilized in very large scale solar arrays, can present problems to the spacecraft designer, both in terms of cost and availability," said Joseph Armstrong, Ascent’s chief technology officer. "By starting with our production CIGS monolithically-integrated modules, we can provide Vanguard with a module that is tuned for the space environment, and in a similar way to our products enabling novel commercial goods, our space CIGS modules will enable Vanguard to utilize its unique protective coating and design expertise to succeed in their goal of providing NASA an economical pathway for powering these future missions."
Vanguard CEO Frank Belknap added, "The advent of our extreme environment thin film coatings, automated manufacturing friendly array design, and Ascents proven cell technology provides an ideal solution for next generation durable, affordable, large-area space solar arrays."
In March, Vanguard passed a key test milestone with its Thin Integrated Solar (THINS) photovoltaic technology, demonstrating high-voltage operation in a simulated space plasma environment.
The test was conducted by Alliant TechSystems (ATK) as part of its MegaFlex Solar Array technology demonstration under the direction of NASA’s Glenn Research Center for the Agency’s Solar Electric Propulsion Development Project.
That project focused on the development of high power arrays needed for the next generation of orbital transfer and exploration missions powered by solar electric propulsion. Next-generation spacecraft will use electric propulsion powered by lightweight, high-power solar arrays like THINS.
The test was performed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory plasma facility, which simulates the enhanced plasma environment that solar arrays face when being used to power spacecraft that have electric propulsion ion thrusters.