Ascent improves design of PV modules for space environment


Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., said Monday it had achieved a major breakthrough in power-to-weight ratio for its super-light solar module, delivering over 1,700 W of power per kilogram while operating at air mass zero (AM0), technically known as the space environment.

The Colorado-based flexible thin-film PV module manufacturer said that at this performance, its super-light 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 a critical improvement for satellites, space vehicles and space stations,” the company said.

Ascent points out that for space and near-space applications, power-to-weight ratio is a key performance metric. In addition to simplicity, Ascent’s modules could dramatically impact cost, the company said.

“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 $1 million per pound for a space launch,” Ascent said. “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.”

Ascent co-founder and CTO Joseph Armstrong added that the company’s proprietary technology and unique manufacturing approach was ideally suited for space and near-space applications as the company was the only producer that utilized 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."

Armstrong pointed out that while the design specifications for the modules were optimized for the space environment, they would be useful for other applications, such as unmanned aircraft, drones and other terrestrial applications.

Ascent President and CEO Victor Lee said the achievement would help accelerate the roll out of the company’s space and near-space PV applications with agencies with which it has been working.

“Additionally, we believe there are several private organizations, both domestic and international, with ambitions in space and near-space markets that would be keenly interested in our superior power-to-weight ratio photovoltaics,” Lee added.

“This technical achievement is a testament to our strategic shift in market focus since 2012 and will continue to open up new and valuable premium market opportunities for Ascent, enabling the sale of very high margin products."