UT physicists awarded $7.4 million to develop solar technology to power space vehicles

Published: Aug. 8, 2019 at 10:12 AM EDT
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The United States Air Force awarded a team of researchers at the University of Toledo a $7.4 million grant to develop solar technology that can power space vehicles. The goal is to improve the safety and effectiveness of Department of Defense missions.

"What we're trying to do is to provide power in situations where power is normally not available," Dr. Randall Ellingson, a professor in UT's Department of Physics and Astronomy said.

Dr. Ellingson, along with the UT Wright Center for Photovoltaics, Innovation, and Commercialization will lead the five-year project. Its goal is to create lightweight, flexible, highly efficient and durable solar technology that can power space vehicles using sunlight.

"It turns out that making solar cells is actually quite complicated, and making high efficiency solar cells presents a lot of challenges," Dr. Ellingson said. "We are going to work on understanding material properties and the interfaces where materials join with one another so we can control the flow of energy. That energy will start as light energy from the sun, and it will be converted to electronic energy in the materials, and then our goal is to control the flow of energy in the materials so that we can create highly efficient power sources, powered by sunlight."

For now, the lab looks like a contraption of lasers and mirrors, but before you know it, it's going to be solar technology that can power a spacecraft.

"It is so awesome, you know," Kamala Khanal Subedi, one of the students working on the project said. "Working on this kind of materials and using those into the solar cells into those applications, it's just awesome."