9 November 2023
Ascent Solar Technologies Inc of Thornton, CO, USA — which makes lightweight, flexible copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) modules that can be integrated into consumer products, off-grid applications and aerospace applications — says that its latest CIGS technology has achieved a measured specific power (power-to-weight ratio) of 1900W/kg at AM0 (air mass 0, the standard solar spectrum that represents solar radiation outside Earth’s atmosphere, in the vacuum of space). The existing range of specific power for crystalline solar technologies deployed in space is 100–400W/kg.
The specific power rate is the most important factor for solar applications where overall array mass is crucial, including those in the aerospace sector, where the cost per kilogram is $2000–25,000 to launch payloads into low earth orbit (LEO). Higher-energy orbits such as geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) or cislunar space typically run an order of magnitude more per kg, with payloads intended for moon landing having been booked for over $1m/kg.
Ascent says that its thin-film solar is suitable for use in a space environment due to its radiation resistance, resilience to physical damage, self-annealing, as well as ultralight weight and flexibility. With recent advances in power density, Ascent reckons it can provide meaningful power for space customers without the increased cost of mass. There is a fixed amount of mass and volume available for current mission launches and, by increasing power density, Ascent can increase the system power available, with no increases to mass and volume. As a result, there is no impact to launch cost, enabling space missions to get even more out of the existing and growing number of orbital launch providers.
“Ascent streamlines the otherwise onerous process of assembly, integration and testing for solar arrays for satellites and other spacecraft,” says CEO Paul Warley. “Our Plug & Fly array solutions eliminate the scheduling impacts needed to pick, place, wire, solder and test individual cells while simultaneously reducing the cleanroom space bottleneck that the process typically requires. Ascent technology can prevent space vehicle and system integrators from having to deal with thousands of credit-card-sized components and delicate interconnects between them by instead providing them a single thin-film solar array with pre-integrated and tested PV modules,” he adds.
“Our most recent performance improvements now make Ascent space products viable drop-in replacement power generation solutions that can also produce more power over the course of a mission,” Warley continues. “This translates to saving multiple kilograms for mission managers and spacecraft engineers balancing spacecraft power and mass budgets.”