Earth-orbiting spacecrafts, such as the International Space Station (ISS), require a source of power to be able to perform various functions in space. For example, ISS relies on electrical power to allow the crew to live comfortably, operate the station, and perform scientific experiments.
In space, the sun is a readily available source of energy. NASA has, and continues to develop technologies to convert sunlight into power for ISS and satellite missions, including the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2). These technologies include photovoltaic systems (such as solar panels) and solar batteries, which are charged during the sunlit part of the spacecraft’s orbit, storing energy to be used when the spacecraft is not in direct sunlight.
Solar energy technologies are critical to current Earth-observing missions, as well as to our next steps in deep space, including the journey to Mars. Additionally, these technologies have significant applications for ensuring access to reliable and sustainable energy for all on Earth.
In fact, the current NASA-funded Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation V (HI-SEAS V), a habitat on an isolated Mars-like site on the Mauna Loa side of the Big Island of Hawaii, relies on photovoltaic panels and solar batteries to power its long-duration Mars analog simulation studies. The crew of six uses electricity generated by solar technologies to conduct activities ranging from conducting experiments to cooking and exercising, and thus they must strictly calculate and monitor energy generation by their solar panels.
The concept of solar energy is not instinctively tangible. While we may appreciate the capacity of solar panels and solar batteries, many of us don’t understand how much energy a solar panel actually produces.
Your challenge is to create a means to help people understand how much energy comes from a solar panel. Take your solution a step further, and create a tool to allow the HI-SEAS crew, or other explorers reliant on solar panels, to plan their daily energy consumption for all their human necessities and other planned activities based on expected energy output from solar panels.
This challenge addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to engage all countries and all stakeholders in a collaborative partnership. The SDGs aim to build a better future for all people by achieving sustainable development in three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental – in the spirit of strengthened global solidarity:
- Goal 7.1: By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.
- Goal 7.2: By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
- There are many different types of solar panels. Think of how they are built, what use they are designed for, and where they are to be used (for example, on Earth or in space).
- How would environmental conditions, such as a cloudy or a dusty day, affect energy generated by a solar panel? For example, if it’s an overcast day, will you be able to charge your computer or take a hot shower?
- Compare your solar panel data with information about the energy consumption of various common household things that might be needed in the HI-SEAS habitat, or other habitats.
- How would the location of a solar panel affect its energy output? How much energy does the same panel generate in various locations on Earth versus in space?