This innovation represents a method and circuit realization of a system designed to make in-situ measurements of test solar-cell operational parameters on orbit using readily available high-temperature and high-ionizing-radiation-tolerant electronic components. This innovation enables on-orbit in-situ solar-array health monitoring and is in response to a need recognized by the U.S. Air Force for future solar arrays for unmanned spacecraft. This system can also be constructed out of commercial-grade electronics and can be embedded into terrestrial solar power system as a diagnostics instrument.

This innovation represents a novel approach to I-V curve measurement that is radiation and temperature hard, consumes very few system resources, is economical, and utilizes commercially available components. The circuit will also operate at temperatures as low as –55 °C and up to +225 °C, allowing it to reside close to the array in direct sunlight. It uses a swept mode transistor functioning as a resistive load while utilizing the solar cells themselves as the biasing device, so the size of the instrument is small and there is no danger of over-driving the cells. Further, this innovation utilizes nearly universal spacecraft bus resources and therefore can be readily adapted to any spacecraft bus allowing for ease of retrofit, or designed into new systems without requiring the addition of infrastructure.

One unique characteristic of this innovation is that it effects the measurement of I-V curves without the use of large resistor arrays or active current sources normally used to characterize cells. A single transistor is used as a variable resistive load across the cell. This multi-measurement instrument was constructed using operational amplifiers, analog switches, voltage regulators, MOSFETs, resistors, and capacitors. The operational amplifiers, analog switches, and voltage regulators are silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology known for its hardness to the effects of ionizing radiation. The SOI components used can tolerate temperatures up to 225 °C, which gives plenty of thermal headroom allowing this circuit to perhaps reside in the solar cell panel itself where temperatures can reach over 100 °C.

This work was done by Michael J. Krasowski and Norman F. Prokop of 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-18461-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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