I've seen a fast spinning glass wheel used in front of a camera to clear away water, dust or ice.

Could Solar panels be made circular and spin to clear dust off of them in the same way may?

As opposed to the proposal in another question about Brushing clean a Mars lander's solar panels, here it is the panels that sling off the dust.


I worked in R&D for a solar cell / panel company. Here's my thoughts:

Dust does reduce the power to solar cell significantly. A few options:

  1. Spinning - Could be done but would need to withstand the following: a. Dust storms - seems like you would need a lock down mechanism b. rotating required high voltage and current going through a rotary union. These are not the most robust mechanisms but possible. c. Not sure it would remove as much of the fine dust as other possible solutions.

  2. Water or soap and water - what is used normally on earth. I'm assuming water is too valuable but it's very effective.

  3. Brushes - Either automated or even as simple as a person in a space suit with a brush. Seems simple and robust. The coatings on the solar cell glass will need to withstand the brushing without scratching the coating. This can be an issue with some of the more efficient solar panel coatings, so it might cost a small amount of power. However, thinking about it, with the dust storms you would probably need a more robust coating regardless.

  • $\begingroup$ The Dust storms on Mars isn't that violent, just dusty. $\endgroup$ – Muze Apr 18 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe a coating in which dust does not adhere to the panels. $\endgroup$ – Muze Apr 18 at 22:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They've worked on coatings that don't adhere for desert solar farms where water is scare. You actually want a coating that is micro rough so the sun rays don't reflect and are absorbed into the glass. Like everything, it's always trade-offs. Also, the panels on mars will be space solar cells that are much more efficient and expensive then what I've worked on. I'm not sure their experience with these issues. $\endgroup$ – Rob Rogers Apr 18 at 23:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Muze, I've included an answer on your other question. $\endgroup$ – Rob Rogers Apr 18 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ How about electrostatically charging the panel or rapidly pulsing an electrostatic field to repel dust particles? $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Apr 19 at 16:56

From a mechanical, engineering view, having a brush on a robotic arm to clean the solar panel is more favorable, than rotating the panel. Having a current transfer between the rotating solar panel and the standing probe is highly problematic and would cause likely more problems, than the dust itself.

Note, although that dust played a role in the end of life of the Spirit and Opportunity, both probes survived far longer than it was expected.

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry peter ... $\endgroup$ – Muze Apr 18 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ It wouldn't even have to be as complex as robot arm. Just a track-mounted brush or 'windshield wiper' type arrangement. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 19 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ For everyone to be happy, there should be a fixed brush and a slowly rotating panel swept by the brush. Vinyl + reading head style. $\endgroup$ – qq jkztd Apr 22 at 9:53

Yes, but its worth nothing that getting mass to mars is crazy expensive. PV cells themselves can be made very light as they aren't subject to much force. To be mass efficient you can't add heavy cleaning devices.

  • $\begingroup$ PV cells used on Mars should resist all forces caused by the transport to Mars, the rocket launch with its vibrations and maximum acceleration as well as entry and landing to Mars. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 10 at 16:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.