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Was trying to find some "experimental" solar panel designs, and came across a rather fascinating design idea, inflatable solar panels. I feel like something this compact would work stupendously for a CubeSat or some other small probe that requires enough energy to power an ion propulsion unit, yet needs to retain minimal mass. Have these ever been used in any capacity, either aboard a JPL mission or potentially even a civilian CubeSat mission? Is there any limitation or reason that they have not been used?

They are quoted as saying, "The Advanced Concepts Office examined three classes of missions and determined that each would benefit from an inflatable solar array power source: (1) Earth orbiting small spacecraft, (2) a three-unit cubesat mission, and (3) a larger probe designed to fly to the outer planets." However, there is no direct allusion to their plans for these panels, but also they say, "Testing the system validated it worked in a laboratory environment, which is considered a test readiness level of four, and proved the feasibility of the concept", which proves they may be considering it.


Original Article: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/news/releases/2014/14-112.html

Dated: July 24, 2014

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    $\begingroup$ The inflated solar cells should be stiff for a long time (monts, years). I see at least two concerns - meteoroid impacts and gas diffusion to vacuum. $\endgroup$ – Heopps Jul 13 '18 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @heopps yeah, especially in CubeSats where storage of gases is basically a no-go if you're trying to launch an amateur CubeSat through a 3rd party. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 13 '18 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Shuttle deployed a large inflatable antenna from a subsatellite. I don't know how to post links in the mobile app but if you search the site for 'spartan' you'll find a question and answer about it. Spoiler: it didn't work well. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Jul 14 '18 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble photos in How did this structure fit into the Shuttle and then expand to 28 meters? and also your answer space.stackexchange.com/a/22963/12102 $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 14 '18 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ Some kind of goop that would expand to form a very light-weight, low-pressure closed-cell foam would be handy, though probably difficult to formulate in reality. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 14 '18 at 5:28

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