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The future of deep space travel could come down to tiny solar panels

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The year 1959 saw the launch of the first solar-powered rocket, ; in more recent decades tests on solar panels in space have been done using to float up near the Earth’s stratosphere.

For decades, scientists have aimed to create the perfect solar panel design for the benefit of all of us here on Earth. Now, research suggests that these supercharged panels could also be a boon much further away from home.

These panels showed no real dip in functionality and even demonstrated the ability to work in low-light conditions better than their heavier, inorganic counterparts. Researchers believe that these capabilities could make them prime candidates for the future of deep space travel.

These were published Wednesday in the journal Joule.

In the paper, the researcher team explains that the history of solar cell-powered space flight and experimentation has been, at best, lacking. The year 1959 saw the launch of the first solar-powered rocket, ; in more recent decades tests on solar panels in space have been done using to float up near the Earth’s stratosphere. This isn’t exactly the same as achieving actual orbital heights.

As a result, it’s difficult for scientists to extrapolate how some of the current research could be applied to deep space missions. To get a little closer to this reality, this research team shot their solar cells around 149 miles into the sky.

The authors write that these cells were so thin and light (2.2 lbs each) that they could generate enough electricity to power 300 standard light bulbs.

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