Good News for Mars Colonists: Solar Power Conversion Efficiency is on the Rise


As part of expanded coverage under its “News for the New Frontier ” theme, will be covering a wide variety of news items whose long term impacts could play a decisive role into when, how and to what extent the human race takes takes the next step towards becoming an interplanetary species.   Launch costs and capacity will continue to be a major focus, but as the former falls and the latter rises, other issues  can begin to come to the forefront.

Along those lines, nothing could be more important than ongoing advances in the collection and storage of solar energy and its gradual advance into the world market.  As the conversion efficiency of solar power cells increases, the opportunities for more robust systems to be deployed in space,  and on surfaces such as the Moon and Mars increases as well. It needs to.

The United States government nearly ran out of PU-238 for Radioisotope Thermoelectic Generators (RTG) such as the type which power Curiosity Rover on Mars and Cassini spacecraft at Saturn before it restarted limited production in 2013 following a 15 year hiatus.  Though incredibly reliable, RTG’s, which take the heat from nuclear decay and convert it into electricity, suffer from very low conversion efficiency.  A much more efficient alternative exists in the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator, which uses a working fluid to drive pistons to generate the electricity, but NASA canceled the program due to budget cuts in November 2013.

More prosaically, it is exceedingly doubtful that private or even semi-private space ventures will ever have access to nuclear reactors, so it really is “go solar or stay home.”

With that in mind, the Economist has an interesting article describing a significant increase, all the way to 42.5%,  in efficiency being achieved through stacking solar cells to capture more of the available energy.  The complete article is here.

Posted in: Mars, Space Settlement

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