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Improving Interstellar Mileage


NASA Supports UCR Research on Improved Solar Cells for Spacecraft

The Space agency awards a two-year grant to use nanotechnology to improve the efficiency and radiation-resistance of solar cells for spacecraft.

(December 22, 2006)

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The docked Soyuz 13 foreground) and Progress 22 resupply vehicle taken from the International Space Station. Improved solar cell technology could increase Space Station performance. <br />
Image credit: NASA<br />

The docked Soyuz 13 foreground) and Progress 22 resupply vehicle taken from the International Space Station. Improved solar cell technology could increase Space Station performance.
Image credit: NASA

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — www.ucr.edu — Just as mileage limits how far your car can go, the limitations of today’s solar panels restrict how far deep-space exploration craft can go before they run out of power. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, however, are part of a team to improve our interstellar mileage.

Electrical Engineering Professor Alexander Balandin of the Bourns College of Engineering is co-leading a university-industry team, which received NASA funding to develop solar cells for space that use nanostructures to both increase efficiency and improve resistance to radiation damage.

The interdisciplinary team includes researchers and engineers from the Huntsville, Ala.-based CFD Research Corporation, the Rochester Institute of Technology and International Photonics.

Together, they will develop the software tools that fuel computer models designed to improve the next generation of solar cells for use in space as well as to test prototype devices. UCR will design computer simulations and models that will facilitate this prototype testing, according to Balandin.

“We’re looking at new concepts in approaching this modeling and simulation by including physical models in the software modeling tools,” Balandin said.

Future NASA deep-space exploration missions will require improvements in the photovoltaic efficiency of solar panels and their resistance to radiation. The work in Professor Balandin’s Nano-Device Laboratory (NDL), funded with $200K two-year subcontract, will include modeling of light absorption and electron transport in the nanostructured semiconductors as well as experimental study of the solar cell performance.

The software tools developed by the project will use theoretical results previously obtained in Balandin’s lab on the development of regimented quantum dot superlattices.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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