What color(s) does the solar panels on the ISS look like the human eye through either a spacecraft window or helmet visor?

The solar panels look a different in different photos. enter image description here ESA website

enter image description here NASA website

I recognize the same object can look like it has different colors in different photographs. Do either, or both, of these photographs reasonably depict what is seen by the human eye?


1 Answer 1


Both are accurate. The top picture shows the back side of the array. The bottom picture shows the front side of it.

The solar arrays are extremely thin blankets -- approximately 0.020" (0.5 mm) thick. At the back, it consists of a substrate built from a loosely woven, silicone-impregnated fiberglass scrim cloth sandwiched between two layers of Kapton film. Glued on top of that is the photovoltaic module assembly, which consists of a flexible printed circuit made from copper and Kapton (DuPont Pyralux film is a nearly flightlike analog for this) welded to the solar cells.

The front face of each solar cell has a thin glass cover (coverglass) with an antireflective coating on it. The cells themselves are black (a pretty good color for something whose job it is to absorb light), but the antireflective coating can give the cells a blueish appearance, depending on the viewing angle.

The backs of the cells are green, but viewed through the orange Kapton, it takes on a brownish-to-blackish appearance where the cells are.

  • $\begingroup$ great answer. some sources would make it even better $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM space.stackexchange.com/a/21701/12102 first sentence, then final paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 20:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JRCM What uhoh said pretty much. I have a box of ISS solar cells in a file cabinet immediately to my left. I can walk about thirty feet and go pick up a sample of blanket material. I've also shot holes in both. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 20:53

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