The term “electromagnetically clean solar array” (“EMCSA”) refers to a panel that contains a planar array of solar photovoltaic cells and that, in comparison with a functionally equivalent solar-array panel of a type heretofore used on spacecraft, (1) exhibits less electromagnetic interference to and from other nearby electrical and electronic equipment and (2) can be manufactured at lower cost. The reduction of electromagnetic interference is effected through a combination of (1) electrically conductive, electrically grounded shielding and (2) reduction of areas of current loops (in order to reduce magnetic moments). The reduction of cost is effected by designing the array to be fabricated as a more nearly unitary structure, using fewer components and fewer process steps. Although EMSCAs were conceived primarily for use on spacecraft, they are also potentially advantageous for terrestrial applications in which there are requirements to limit electromagnetic interference.

In a conventional solar panel of the type meant to be supplanted by an EMCSA panel, the wiring is normally located on the back side, separated from the cells, thereby giving rise to current loops having significant areas and, consequently, significant magnetic moments. Current-loop geometries are chosen in an effort to balance opposing magnetic moments to limit far-field magnetic interactions, but the relatively large distances separating current loops makes full cancellation of magnetic fields problematic. The panel is assembled from bare photovoltaic cells by means of multiple sensitive process steps that contribute significantly to cost, especially if electromagnetic cleanliness is desired. The steps include applying a cover glass and electrical-interconnection tabs to each cell to create a cell-interconnect-cell (CIC) sub-assembly, connecting the CIC subassemblies into strings of series-connected cells, laying down and adhesively bonding the strings onto a panel structure that has been made in a separate multi-step process, and mounting the wiring on the back of the panel. Each step increases the potential for occurrence of latent defects, loss of process control, and attrition of components.

An EMCSA panel includes an integral cover made from a transparent silicone material. The silicone cover supplants the individual cover glasses on the cells and serves as an additional unitary structural support that offers the advantage, relative to glass, of the robust, forgiving nature of the silicone material. The cover contains pockets that hold the solar cells in place during the lamination process. The cover is coated with indium tin oxide to make its surface electrically conductive, so that it serves as a contiguous, electrically grounded electromagnetic shield over the entire panel surface.

The cells are mounted in proximity to metallic printed wiring. The printed-wiring layer comprises metal-film traces on a sheet of Kapton (or equivalent) polyimide. The traces include contact pads on one side of the sheet for interconnecting the cells. Return leads are on the opposite side of the sheet, positioned to form the return currents substantially as mirror images of, and in proximity to, the cell sheet currents, thereby minimizing magnetic moments. The printed-wiring arrangement mimics the back-wiring arrangement of conventional solar arrays, but the current-loop areas and the resulting magnetic moments are much smaller because the return-current paths are much closer to the solar-cell sheet currents.

The contact pads are prepared with solder for electrical and mechanical bonding to the cells. The pocketed cover/shield, the solar cells, the printed-wiring layer, an electrical-bonding agent, a mechanical-bonding agent, a composite structural front-side face sheet, an aluminum honey-comb core, and a composite back-side face sheet are all assembled, then contact pads are soldered to the cells and the agents are cured in a single lamination process.

This work was done by Theodore G. Stern and Anthony E. Kenniston of DR Technologies, Inc. for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Glenn Research Center
Innovative Partnerships Office
Attn: Steve Fedor
Mail Stop 4–8
21000 Brookpark Road
Cleveland
Ohio 44135.

Refer to LEW-18156-1.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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