Flexible photovoltaic panels for high power space applications

Research and innovation
Published on 07/14/2020

Towards a new space solar generator architecture for a European high power solution

Space missions require always more solar electric power, typically more than 25kW, to power the electric propulsion of satellites and other functions such as broadband telecommunications. The available volume in satellite launch rockets is limited and does not allow the number and size of conventional rigid solar panels on board to be increased.

The solution to this growing energy need lies neither in adding rigid panels nor in marginally improving the conversion efficiency of III-V multi-junction solar cells, but rather in innovative and disruptive photovoltaic solutions. It involves more solar cells per unit volume, when the panels are in folded storage configuration. This involve developing a new architecture of thin and flexible solar panels for space.

The ALFAMA Project addresses this issue and provides answers to the challenges of mass, cost and power, with ambitions at different levels.

  • The mechanical architecture: a modular deployment system will make it possible to reach very high power levels.
  • The manufacturing process: with custom printed electrical harnesses and laminated panels for simplified and efficient
  • The structure of the solar panel: composed of thin flexible layers, for a high power/mass and power/volume ratio
  • Solar cells: made of loose III-V materials, they are thin, efficient and lightweight.

ALFAMA brings together a team of 8 partners, leaders in their field, from 3 EU member states, who are joining forces to achieve a breakthrough solar panel technology (TRL targeted 4-5). The technology will have to reach the following performances: increase of the power/mass ratio by ≥ 50%, cost reduction thanks to an assembly process based on terrestrial photovoltaics, power density multiplied by more than a factor of 4 in storage configuration.

CEA's research at INES focuses on the printed substrate, composition and manufacturing process of these flexible panels; at the end of the project, the large-scale solar prototypes manufactured by CEA with the partners' new III-V cells will be integrated into a deployment structure.

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