VLASS- A bright innovation

Reflector and lamp of the VLASS system
Reflector and lamp of the VLASS system
7 February 2001

The world of photovoltaics, the high-technology approach to converting sunlight directly into electrical energy, is changing rapidly where space applications are concerned. With ever more advanced solar cells on the market and with larger panel sizes, meeting production demands for solar arrays is increasingly challenging.

Fokker Space (NL), a specialist in solar array development since 1973, has just added a new solar simulation facility to their existing test facilities as part of the companies long-term commitment to investing in the solar array market. VLASS, the Very Large Area Solar Simulator, provides a precision source of indoor solar radiation designed to simulate natural sunlight for space or for terrestrial testing over a 2.85 m x 4 m target. It can be used as a precision solar simulator for long-duration solar exposure tests or in combination with specialised VIVA I-V curve tracing software to perform highly accurate electrical performance tests on solar arrays.

Originally designed and manufactured by Vortek Industries of Canada, VLASS development continued through liaison with Fokker Space and support from ARTES-4, the ESA/Industry partnership programme.

VLASS is more efficient than previous solar simulation methods as it reduces precious time spent on cell inspections and performance measurements, and provides greater accuracy than ever before. In the past, solar panels were tested by means of Xenon flash lamp testers. However, new generation solar-cell technologies, such as thin-film and multi-junction cells, require more accurate measurement techniques.

VLASS has also addressed and overcome two major sources of error by using a different approach for both lamp technology as well as the I-V curve data acquisition. Previously, false measurements could occur due to transient electrical effects in the cells 'capacitance effects', and mismatch of the flasher spectrum and quantum efficiency of multi-junction cells. Custom modification options are available to suit the individual test centre.

The VLASS long-pulse measurement system is equipped with Vortek's high power Argon plasma arc lamp, the most powerful continuous radiation source in the UV-VIS-IR range. As often happens with technology designed for space, VLASS also has ‘terrestrial’ benefits; this technology is now being used to improve the illumination at football matches.

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