NASA Relies On Solar For Next Moon Mission

Before their widespread adoption as an “alternative” power source, solar panels were most commonly associated with deep space. But, the solar panels used to power satellites are actually quite different from those powering homes and businesses here on planet Earth.  The harsh reality of generating power in outer space requires solar panels to be both highly efficient, and capable of tolerating extreme temperatures.

Emcore, a manufacturer of semiconductor components for the fiber optic and solar power markets, has manufactured more than one million space-tested solar cells, powering over 90 satellites. Emcore recently announced that it will provide 32 solar panels for an important robotic mission to the Moon. NASA Ames’ Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission will orbit the moon, studying the lunar atmosphere and fine dust particles suspended above the lunar surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in early 2013 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.


image via Emcore

According to NASA, one of the primary goals of the LADEE mission is to determine the density, composition, and other characteristics of the fragile lunar atmosphere “before it is perturbed by further human activity.” The mission will also test a new spacecraft architecture called the “Modular Common Bus,” a “flexible, low cost, rapid turn around spacecraft” designed to both orbit and land on the Moon and other surfaces. NASA hopes that this new spacecraft technology will reduce the cost of future space exploration.

The company has also built solar panels at its manufacturing facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico for several other NASA missions. “This contract is an exciting award for Emcore, and we are proud to support NASA’s newest lunar mission,” said Christopher Larocca, Chief Operating Officer for Emcore. “We appreciate NASA’s continued confidence in Emcore to supply solar panels for their demanding spacecraft power systems.”

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

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