NASA taps UT engineers for help in making solar energy aboard spacecraft more reliable

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  • Adrian Șut
    Association football player
  • Daniel Georgiev
    Bulgarian footballer

Jun. 14—NASA has awarded a three-year, $240,000 grant to a pair of University of Toledo researchers to offer advice on how spacecraft might be more reliably powered by the sun on future missions to the moon and Mars.

Raghav Khanna and Daniel Georgiev, both associate professors in UT's electrical engineering and computer science department, will try to find ways to make power conversion circuitry more resilient and tolerant to space-related radiation, which can be pretty intense.

Radiation in outer space can degrade a spacecraft's performance.

The two are leading a team of engineers on a project with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will examine how the sun's energy can be better harnessed out in space.

Electricity generated by solar panels aboard a spacecraft is used to provide power for a number of systems, including propulsion and navigation.

But cosmic rays in space can disrupt the process of having solar-derived electricity pass through an intermediary circuit, or a "power converter" so that it is compatible with the propulsion and navigation systems.

Mr. Georgiev and Mr. Khanna will seek ways of making conversion circuitry more resilient and tolerant to space-related radiation.

The two are modeling why circuits fail in space by using a solar array simulator in their laboratory, the university said.

"We're analyzing how the radiation penetrates the circuit and what causes these devices to degrade," Mr. Georgiev said in a news release issued by UT.

Mr. Khanna has done prior work with NASA on power electronics and semiconductor studies.

"We are honored and excited that our research will contribute to NASA's goal of putting more exploratory devices and electrical power on Mars," he said.

UT said the engineering team also will seek out ways for spacecraft to "continuously extract maximum power from available sunlight."

"As the spacecraft is moving around and goes behind a celestial body, maximum available power tends to change rapidly," Mr. Khanna said. "On the moon, lunar dust can also obscure the panel from the sun, leading to rapid changes in available power. Whether in deep space or in lunar missions, we need to develop a control algorithm to make sure we can always extract maximum available power from solar panels at a much greater efficiency while exhibiting improved radiation tolerance, allowing uninterrupted exploration."

NASA has previously stated it has chosen 2024 as the target year for sending a manned mission back to the moon for the first time since the old Apollo program was discontinued in 1972.

The new mission is called Artemis, a nod to Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology.

The space agency has put together an 18-astronaut team for the upcoming Artemis missions.

Five are from California.

None are from Ohio.

NASA's plan is to go back to the moon with multiple Artemis missions. It wants to learn more about the millions of tons of water discovered at the moon's south pole after the Apollo missions ended.

Then, NASA will set its sights on Mars and beyond, starting in the mid-2030s.

First Published June 13, 2021, 3:28pm

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