What are the different types of Solar Panels used in Space?

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Sep 19, 2022

Crystalline Silicon Panels

Crystalline Silicon Panels were first used in 1958 for the VANGUARD-1 satellite. Panels made from silicon have a much lower efficiency i.e 15-20% electricity generated because silicon panels can only absorb visible sunlight and not infrared & UV rays. Additionally, silicon panels are more susceptible to degradation over time due to the development of microcracks in the panel which will reduce the overall life & performance of the solar panel.

Gallium Arsenide Panels

Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) Panels proved to be an excellent replacement for crystalline silicon panels in the 1980s. GaAs panels provided a much higher efficiency when compared with crystalline silicon panels. The degradation over time is much lesser when compared to silicon panels & it is observed that GaAs panels perform efficiently even when subjected to high heat.

Multijunction (MJ) Solar Panels

To enhance the efficiency of solar panels, multijunction (MJ) solar panels were developed. MJ solar panels are made up of multiple layers. They consist of a combination of Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs),  Germanium (Ge) & Indium Gallium Phosphide (InGaP). 

These multiple layers help absorb different spectrum (visible, infrared, UV) of solar and provides maximum efficiency (40-50%) for spacecraft and satellites. MJ Solar panels are expensive but are used effectively in modern spacecraft & satellites.

International Space Station (ISS) uses MJ solar panels to power everything on the space station. Approximately 262,400 solar panels are used to power the ISS which generates around 120 kW of power which also includes the time spent in the earth’s shadow.