NASA On The Hunt For Spacecraft Solar Arrays

Beam me up, Scotty! NASA’s Space Technology Program is looking for proposals to help it develop advanced solar space technologies. These solar arrays will be used to power space electric propulsion systems that go, as NASA Space Technology Program head Michael Gazarik describes it, “well beyond low Earth orbit.”

This request for proposals has been extended to all potential U.S. organizations, including NASA’s own affiliates; other government entities; educational institutions like MIT; federally funded research and development laboratories like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and even industry and nonprofits.

Space Station solar array

image via NASA

Applicants will be expected to complete two phases of development. The first involves designing and testing a scalable solar array of more than 30 kilowatts (kW), and identifying the greatest technical hazards of ramping said systems up to, or greater than, 250 kW. In Phase II, applicants will prove their systems via actual space travel, with follow-on applications being sought in the areas of solar electric propulsion systems and high-powered satellite communications.

Up to three awards will be given during Phase I, for a total value of $15 million to $20 million. More information is available via a NASA PDF, but the information provided over at Clean Energy Authority simplifies 50 pages of dense text by noting that winners will end up providing NASA astronauts and space travelers with a system that makes long-term flight possible with less (or no) dependence on non-renewable fuel sources.

However, the current request for proposal is not NASA’s sole venture in seeking out green technologies. In February, we reported on that agency’s search for an alternative to the toxic Hydrazine fuel used in keeping satellites on-station – an article that also highlighted the rigorous requirements for solar panels operating in deep space. Currently, the International Space Station’s solar array (according to Clean Energy) consists of four, 112-foot long wings, delivered in four separate missions.