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Dust Accumulation and Solar Panel Array Performance on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) ProjectOne of the most fundamental design considerations for any space vehicle is its power supply system. Many options exist, including batteries, fuel cells, nuclear reactors, radioisotopic thermal generators (RTGs), and solar panel arrays. Solar arrays have many advantages over other types of power generation. They are lightweight and relatively inexpensive, allowing more mass and funding to be allocated for other important devices, such as scientific instruments. For Mars applications, solar power is an excellent option, especially for long missions. One might think that dust storms would be a problem; however, while dust blocks some solar energy, it also scatters it, making it diffuse rather than beamed. Solar cells are still able to capture this diffuse energy and convert it into substantial electrical power. For these reasons, solar power was chosen to be used on the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission. The success of this mission set a precedent, as NASA engineers have selected solar power as the energy system of choice for all future Mars missions, including the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Project. Solar sells have their drawbacks, however. They are difficult to manufacture and are relatively fragile. In addition, solar cells are highly sensitive to different parts of the solar spectrum, and finding the correct balance is crucial to the success of space missions. Another drawback is that the power generated is not a constant with respect to time, but rather changes with the relative angle to the sun. On Mars, dust accumulation also becomes a factor. Over time, dust settles out of the atmosphere and onto solar panels. This dust blocks and shifts the frequency of the incoming light, degrading solar cell performance. My goal is to analyze solar panel telemetry data from the two MERs (Spirit and Opportunity) in an effort to accurately model the effect of dust accumulation on solar panels. This is no easy process due to the large number of factors involved. Changing solar flux (the amount of solar energy reaching the planet), solar spectrum, solar angle, rover tilt, and optical depth (the opacity of the atmosphere due to dust) were the most significant. Microsoft Excel and Visual Basic are used for data analysis. The results of this work will be used to improve the dust accumulation and atmosphere effects model that was first created after the Mars Pathfinder mission. This model will be utilized and applied when considering the design of solar panel array systems on future Mars projects. Based on this data, and depending upon the tenure and application of the mission, designers may also elect to employ special tools to abate dust accumulation, or decide that the expected level of accumulation is acceptable.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Document Type
Turgay, Eren H.
(Kentucky Univ. KY, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Publication Information
Publication: Research Symposium I
Subject Category
Energy Production And Conversion
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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