13. August 2020

New so­lar cells for space

The early-morning launch of the ATEK/MAPHEUS-8, prepared for and implemented by the DLR's Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) division
The ear­ly-morn­ing launch of the ATEK/MAPHEUS-8, pre­pared for and im­ple­ment­ed by the DLR's Mo­bile Rock­et Base (MORA­BA) di­vi­sion
Image 1/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

The early-morning launch of the ATEK/MAPHEUS-8, prepared for and implemented by the DLR's Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) division

MAPHEUS-8 launched at 04:21CEST on 13 June 2019 fol­low­ing a smooth count­down. The flight went as ex­pect­ed, with a max­i­mum al­ti­tude of 239 kilo­me­tres. The pay­load and sec­ond stage, equipped with sci­en­tif­ic in­stru­ments, were re­cov­ered by he­li­copter im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter the flight.
ATEK / MAPHEUS-8 payload
ATEK / MAPHEUS-8 pay­load
Image 2/5, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

ATEK / MAPHEUS-8 payload

In ad­di­tion to the DLR In­sti­tutes for Ma­te­ri­als Physics in Space, Aerospace Medicine and the DLR Mi­cro­grav­i­ty Us­er Sup­port Cen­ter (MUSC) in Cologne, the uni­ver­si­ties of Con­stance, Stuttgart Ho­hen­heim, the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Mu­nich, the Lan­dau Beer Project and the Neustadt Wine Cam­pus are al­so in­volved in the ex­per­i­ments.
Upper stage
Rock­et up­per stage
Image 3/5, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Rocket upper stage

Group pic­ture with the rock­et up­per stage
MAPHEUS-8 biology payload
MAPHEUS-8 bi­ol­o­gy pay­load
Image 4/5, Credit: DLR (CC BY 3.0)

MAPHEUS-8 biology payload

Left: MemEx - ex­per­i­ment rack with yeast sam­ples and ra­di­a­tion de­tec­tor M-42; Right: Cell­Fix with ROP­UM and apex
DLR-Forschungsrakete Marpheus-6
Image 5/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

DLR-Forschungsrakete Marpheus-6

Bei Mapheus-6 di­ente der zweistu­fige, auf Fest­treib­stof­fen basierende Rake­ten­träger VSB-30 als Träger­sys­tem, der von der Abteilung MORA­BA (Mo­bile Raketen­ba­sis) we­gen sein­er Leis­tungs­fähigkeit (Nut­zlast >400kg) zum zweit­en Mal in­ner­halb des Mapheus-Pro­gramms ver­wen­det wurde.
  • Focus: Space

Almost all satellites are powered by solar cells – but solar cells are heavy. While conventional high-performance cells reach up to three watts of electricity per gram, perovskite and organic hybrid cells could provide up to 10 times that amount. A research team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has now tested this type of cell in space for the first time.

Perovskite and organic solar cells are promising options for future generations of solar cells. In recent years, their efficiency has rapidly caught up with that of conventional silicon-based cells. “The best perovskite solar cells currently achieve efficiency levels of 25 percent,” says Peter Müller-Buschbaum, Professor of Functional Materials at the TUM Department of Physics. “These thin solar cells, less than one micrometre thick, applied to ultra-thin, flexible synthetic sheets, are extremely lightweight. They can therefore produce nearly 30 watts per gram.”

Manufacture at room temperature

This is only possible thanks to a decisive advantage of the new solar cells: production of silicon solar cells requires very high temperatures and elaborate processes. Perovskite cells and organic semiconductors, on the other hand, can be manufactured at room temperature from solution.

“These organic solutions are very easy to process,” explains the lead author Lennart Reb. “Thus, the technologies open up new fields of application in which conventional solar cells were simply too unwieldy or too heavy – and that also applies far beyond the aerospace sector.”

Test flight into space

Two different types of organic and perovskite solar cells were tested in space for the first time on a research flight as part of the MAPHEUS 8 programme at the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range in Kiruna, Sweden. The rocket reached a height of nearly 240 kilometres.

“Our MAPHEUS programme allows us to rapidly implement experiments in a microgravity environment, offering exciting research findings,” says Andreas Meyer, co-author and Head of the DLR Institute of Materials Physics in Space. “This time it went particularly quick: it took us less than a year to progress from the initial idea to the maiden flight of the solar cells as part of the MAPHEUS 8 programme.”

Power generation under exceptional conditions

“Electrical measurements during the flight and the evaluation after recovery of the rocket showed that perovskite and organic solar cells can achieve their potential in terms of expected performance in orbit height,” reports Müller-Buschbaum. “Our measurements are therefore of great scientific value.”

The solar cells also generated electrical energy under diffuse incidence of light. “Cells turned away from the sunlight, which received only sparse lighting exclusively from Earth during the flight, still supplied electricity,” says Reb.

Due to being much thinner, the new solar cells could therefore also be used in much dimmer light, for example on missions to the outer Solar System where solar radiation is too weak for conventional space solar cells.

According to DLR materials scientist Andreas Meyer, “it would not be the first time that innovations are first established as space technologies but go on to be used around the world in other sectors. One reason for this is probably the very strict requirements that space places on all technical components.”

  • Michel Winand
    Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Bonn, Köln, Jülilch, Rhein­bach and Sankt Au­gustin
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2144
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Meyer
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    In­sti­tute of Ma­te­ri­als Physics in Space, Head of In­sti­tute
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2667
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln
  • Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Peter Müller-Buschbaum
    Chair of the In­sti­tute for Func­tion­al Ma­te­ri­als TUM
    Tech­nis­che Uni­ver­sität München
    Physics De­part­ment
    Telephone: +49 89 289-12451
    James-Franck-Str. 1
    85748 Garching b. München

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