Solar array testing

Power Laboratories

What is their role?

A satellite without electricity is nothing but space junk. Often missions require a lot of electricity: power subsystems are increasingly running up to tens of kilowatts. A telecommunication satellite may have as many as 60 high-voltage transponders aboard, all of which have to operate reliably for 15 years or more.

ESA’s Power Labs perform tests related to all aspects of satellite power systems and equipment, including power conditioning to manage and convert on-board electricity, solar generators based on photovoltaic cells converting sunlight into electrical power as well as space batteries to keep missions operational in all circumstances.

What services do they offer?

Battery testing

The Power Labs provide independent and impartial evaluation of power system
designs for ESA programmes or R&D prototypes. They cover:

  • Characterisation testing of critical power supply components and breadboards
  • Failure investigation
  • Environmental testing, e.g. thermal cycling of solar array coupons
  • Power converter design validation, by e.g. linking them to solar array simulators
  • High voltage testing in ambient, partial pressure and vacuum conditions Solar array and cells performance measurement under simulated sun
  • Long-term multi-year space battery testing including thousands of charge/discharge cycles
  • Studying age-based battery phenomena such as self-discharging and memory effects
  • Software modelling of batteries and solar cells
  • Support to and preparation of R&D activities and standardisation

How are they equipped?

Solar cell testing

The Power Labs are made up of three individual facilities, the Power Systems Lab, the Solar Generator Lab and the European Space Battery Test Centre.

The Power System Lab is made up in turn of two separate work areas, the Power Electronics Lab and High Voltage Lab. The former includes, in addition of ten individually-equipped electronic work benches, specialised equipment such as solar array simulators for the verification of conventional and maximum power point tracking systems, network analysers for the evaluation of regulators performance or thermal cameras to evaluate thermal stress on operating units.

The High Voltage Lab includes high voltage power sources – up to 60,000 volts for DC, up to 40,000 volts for AC and high current available – plus a combined thermal vacuum chamber and Faraday cage, with additional thermal and thermal-vacuum chambers, insulation testers and protected high voltage workspaces.

Work bench

The Solar Generator Lab includes permanent and pulsed solar simulators. Thermal chambers allow accelerated aging tests in both low and high temperatures. Spectral response equipment permits the detailed characterisation of multi-junction solar cells.
Electroluminescence test equipment can to accurately identify and characterise solar cells anomalies or failures.

The European Space Battery Test Centre is organised around automated long-term lifetime-testing stations for batteries and cells, plus vacuum test chambers, an abuse test chamber enabling safe testing of small cells in critical conditions like mechanical shock,
short-circuit or rapid charge and an inert atmosphere facility for battery examination.

The Labs have four full-time staff with ten to more than twenty years of experience, plus several engineers working part time, in addition to young graduate trainees and stagiaires.

Who are their customers?

Sun Spectrum and Simulated Sun Spectrum in Solar Generator Laboratory.

In operation since the 1970s, the Power Labs are Europe’s leading facilities of their kind. They have a privileged independent position, providing services for many external customers including national space agencies, ESA prime contractors and power subsystem and equipment manufacturers.

The Lab’s work has underpinned the fundamental power conditioning technology required for Earth observing radar systems, high-powered transponders for European telecommunication satellites and ion engine technology. For solar cells, the single most valuable contribution of the Labs is early characterisation of novel solar cell structures, communicating results to the broader European research and industrial communities.

How do I find out more?

Contact Lab Manager Henri Barde

Henri.Barde@esa.int

Last update: 19 May 2014

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