Former Sandia National Laboratories scientist Murat Okandan in 2017 shows a prototype of small, lightweight, flexible solar cell technology developed at the labs.

Sandia-developed solar cell technology reaches space

September 29, 2021 8:24 am Published by

Somewhere among the glitter of the night sky is a small satellite powered by innovative, next-generation solar cell technology developed at Sandia National Laboratories.

mPower Technology’s DragonSCALES, consist of small, highly interconnected photovoltaic cells formerly known as solar glitter at Sandia. They are orbiting Earth for the first time on a Lynk Global Inc. satellite that supports direct connection to unmodified mobile phones. The satellite was launched this summer.

The technology is being evaluated as a potential solar power solution for the Lynk Global constellation fleet. Data collected will provide valuable feedback to validate the product’s performance in space.

“It’s been amazing to watch this technology emerge from the labs and become a product sought after by satellite companies and federal agencies,” said Mary Monson, Sandia’s senior manager of technology partnerships and business development.

The solar cell technology was developed at the labs to reduce the cost of creating solar technology and increase its efficiencies. mPower Technology, a small, New Mexico company, licensed the technology from Sandia and commercialized it as DragonSCALES. The interconnected cells are made of highly efficient silicon that can be meshed into any shape, size or form.

mPower executives say benefits of the technology include ease of installation and system integration. Development costs are lower than other solar technologies because microcells require little material to form well-controlled and highly efficient devices.

“This was the first launch of our innovative DragonSCALES product with Lynk Global, and we look forward to a successful on-orbit demonstration for their constellation,” said Kevin Hell, mPower Technology president and CEO. “With the rapidly increasing interest in our technology for a wide range of new space power missions, we expect many more launches in the near future.”

Aiming for the stars and a future lunar landing

Future projects may take the technology as far as the moon.

mPower and spacecraft systems company Honeybee Robotics Inc. were recently selected by NASA as one of five commercial teams to develop designs for deployable solar array systems to be used on the surface of the moon and one day as charging stations to recharge rovers, battery packs and other electrical equipment used by spacecraft and astronauts.

The teams’ designs must be maneuverable, fold into a volume of less than half a cubic meter and, if selected by NASA, the developed station would be dropped off by lunar rovers to supply power. The team is focused on a Honeybee concept called Lunar Array Mast and Power System, LAMPS, that incorporates DragonSCALES. The design will use some of the most cost-effective, lightest, large area extendable solar panels ever made, according to mPower.

Murat Okandan, mPower chief technology officer, said, “Some of the most exciting and challenging systems coming up have characteristics that are very similar to LAMPS, where cost-effective, large-scale deployment of power systems is going to be critical in being able to meet the mission needs and support the envisioned expansion of activity in orbit and for landed systems.”

Read the complete news release.