Understanding Space Solar Cell Testing with AIAA S-111A-2014

Table of Contents

Solar Power
Space Solar Cell Testing


AIAA S-117-2010 is an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) standard, which recommends a specific verification program for any space system. The idea of space exploration can help to understand the significance of this standard.

However, space organizations are also involved in other activities in addition to space exploration. For instance, some of the most efficient solar energy panels are in space. AIAA S-111A-2014: Qualification and Quality Requirements for Space Solar Cells standardizes testing procedures within the space industry that interact with these solar cells.

Solar Power

Solar power exploits the natural energy emitted from the Sun to the Earth, and it is a popular resource of electricity generation. An estimate by the Solar Energy Industries Association reveals that solar power represents 51% of the new electric generating capacity installed in the US in Q1. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is the most widely used method to harvest solar energy.

To harvest solar energy, panels made of silicon are generally required. These panels power a semiconductor by absorbing photons and generate energy. PV arrays are installed on the roof of homes and buildings and sometimes in vacant spaces on the ground. The average efficiency of these silicon panels is about 15%. Other solar panel materials are currently in the research and development phase. A leading potential candidate is perovskite, which exhibits an efficiency of about 20%.

Space Solar Cell Testing

Solar is far more advanced on spacecrafts. Space organizations prefer gallium arsenide over silicon as the key component of solar panels. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, gallium arsenide is capable of possessing an efficiency of more than 30%. Generally, the use of these solar panels in space is limited due to their high cost.

AIAA standard, AIAA S-111A-2014, lists the requirements to verify that space-based solar cells will work as predicted. The standard considers the special care required for solar panels in space, which are extremely difficult to access and manage.


The system efficiency will decrease over time due to degradation. The rate of degradation can differ based on the condition of the location of the system. Various tests are recommended by the standard to understand the condition of the solar system and its susceptibility to damage. The most basic of these tests is visually inspecting the system to asses any visible irregularities.

The electrical test is another important test, which should be employed on every single “string”, or series-connected set of solar cells, to understand the electrical capabilities. Space solar cells are exposed to extremely harsh conditions. Therefore, performing the extreme hot and cold, bending, and proton and electron exposure tests is very important. These guidelines are helpful to determine the operations and maintenance that will be required for the panels and offer an estimate for the system’s lifetime.

AIAA also addresses the guidelines for space solar panels in the standard, AIAAS-112A-2013: Qualification and Quality Requirements for Electrical Components on Space Solar Panels.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by American National Standards Society - ANSI.

For more information on this source, please visit American National Standards Society - ANSI.

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