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Solar scientists chosen to lead UK space mission programme


March 10 2015 


A University centre for solar energy research has been chosen to lead a UK space programme.

The Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER) at Glynd┼Ár University’s OpTIC Centre in St Asaph will test its flexible PV solar cells as part of the UK Space Agency’s second CubeSat mission.

The AlSat Nano is a joint project between the UK and the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL). 

CSER’s successful selection - following a presentation to the UK Space Agency in Swindon by project leader Dr Dan Lamb (pictured), gives the North Wales team the opportunity to “flight test” its cutting-edge Thin Film Solar Cell.

The mission is committed to a tight time schedule with delivery of CSER’s payload to the CubeSat manufactures due in September, with the launch to take place next Spring.

Professor Stuart Irvine, Director of CSER, said: “The AlSat Nano programme will accelerate one of our strategic goals of increasing our space technology research profile and utilise our unique capability to deposit thin film PV onto space qualified cover glass.

“The flight test will also help our outreach programme of engaging with schools, colleges and the wider public in stimulating interest in solar energy science and technology.”

Once the Thin Film Solar Cell is in orbit its performance will be systematically measured and the data beamed down to mission control at Surrey Space Centre. 

The CubeSat is expected to generate data for at least one year which will be invaluable for producing high quality publications, securing further funding for the research and promoting the Wrexham-based University’s contribution to space science. 

The Thin Film Solar Cell is being developed by CSER in collaboration the University of Surrey and industrial partners Qioptiq Space Technology (QST) and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, meeting the emerging demands of new extra-terrestrial applications.

Last March, the two space agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under which they agreed to enhance collaboration in space programmes. A specific action identified following the MoU was the establishment of a joint educational CubeSat development programme to be delivered by SSC, utilising its ties and heritage in the field

The project could significantly improve the range of science experiments that a CubeSat could carry by making advances in the field of booms – arms used to hold instrument sensors as far as possible from the spacecraft body to minimise interference. SpaceMag-PV Boom will flight test the world’s longest retractable CubeSat-compatible boom which will be able to deploy up to two metres in length from a volume the size of a cigarette packet. This technology could also form the basis of de-orbit systems for future missions.

Thin Film Solar Cell is a novel and potentially step-changing solar cell structure which is directly deposited on cover glass just 1/10th of a millimeter thick. Effects from the space environment will be measured, with the aim of allowing the organisations involved a route to product development and commercial exploitation of this technology.

Dr David Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “AlSat Nano is really starting to take shape. This collaborative programme with our Algerian partner demonstrates the UK’s open and collaborative approach to international space projects, especially in the innovative and fast moving field of CubeSats.

“These tiny spacecraft are helping ever more organisations to get involved in satellite technology, develop skills and drive innovation.”


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