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NASA’s GCD seeking new solar array technologies for deep space missions

International Space Station ISS solar arrays NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider - Copy

Solar array on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA is looking to improve the quality of the solar arrays that will power the U.S. space agency’s ‘Journey to Mars.’ The agency’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program has tapped four proposals that it hopes will empower a new age of space exploration.

“These awards will greatly enhance our ability to further develop and enhance LILT (low-intensity low temperature) performance by employing new solar cell designs,” said Lanetra Tate, the GCD program executive in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate via an agency-issued release. “The ultimate goal of increasing end of life performance and enhanced space power applications will greatly impact how we execute extended missions, especially to the outer planets.”

Some of the challenges that face engineers designing these new array include the incredibly low temperatures which a spacecraft’s components would encounter the farther away from the Sun. Another concern, that of high-radiation is also something that is being reviewed.

NASA has selected the following proposals:

  • Transformational Solar Array for Extreme Environments — Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Maryland
  • Micro-Concentrator Solar Array Technology for Extreme Environments – The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, California
  • Solar Array for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High-Radiation Environments, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
  • Concentrator Solar Power Systems for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High Radiation Game Changing Technology Development — ATK Space Systems of Goleta, California

These four proposals were chosen out of a total of 13 that originated from different locations. Research groups, private industry and NASA centers all sent in concepts under the Extreme Environment Solar Power Appendix to the SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 NASA Research Announcement.

The first contract awards to be issued could be as much as $400,000 each, giving those granted these funds with support a period of about nine months. Efforts focusing on the design and development of solar power systems would be carried out during this time.

If everything goes well during the initial phase of development, a second phase should follow with two of these four organizations being awarded some $1.25 million to test the systems they’ve produced.

That should then be whittled down to a single provider who might be asked to develop their concept into a scalable system for potential use on upcoming missions to space.

If NASA is to send crews beyond the orbit of Earth new technologies need to be designed, developed and tested. The space agency has not launched crews to destinations beyond the orbit of Earth since the crew of Apollo 17 ventured to the Moon in December of 1972.


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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