I am trying to figure out how much power I can expect for a CubeSat in Low Earth Orbit. Is there some dataset or constant that describes the average rate of solar irradiation (per unit of area) in LEO? Even just during the time that it is in the sun? I'm hoping that I can extrapolate how much power can be generated by X solar panel vs Y solar panel during an orbit and continue to develop a power system from there.

And maybe the answer isn't nearly so simple, but I'm kind of starting from scratch here. If there is a better question I could be asking, I'm happy to hear that.


1 Answer 1


The average solar flux received in LEO is approximately the solar constant, or $1,361 \ \mathrm{W/m^2}$ at 1 astronomical unit (AU) from the Sun, though it can vary a bit since the solar irradiance received by an object is really function of distance from the Sun and not constant at all, since the Earth's distance isn't fixed at 1 AU. It works for us in this case though because the Earth's distance from the Sun does not vary too much throughout the year.

To understand where this number comes from, first we will evaluate the total power output from the surface of the Sun ($P_{sun}$) from the following equation,

$$P_{sun} = \sigma \ T^4 \ 4 \pi R_{sun}^{2} = 3.851 \cdot 10^{26} \ \mathrm{W}$$

where $\sigma$ is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant ($5.670374 \cdot 10^{-8} \ \mathrm{W \ m^{-2}\ K^{-4}}$), $T$ is the temperature of the Sun ($5778 \ \mathrm{K}$), and $R_{Sun}$ is the radius of the Sun ($696,340 \ \mathrm{km}$). Be careful with units here.

Next, to determine power received per unit area at Earth's distance from the sun (or for your case in LEO), we divide $P_{Sun}$ by the area of a sphere with a radius equal to Earth's solar range ($r_{Earth}$) i.e.

$$\frac{P_{Sun}}{4 \ \pi \ r_{Earth}^2} = 1361 \ \mathrm{W \ m^{-2}}$$

where $r_{Earth}$ is approximately 150 million km (i.e. 1 astronomical unit).

This value can be used for your power system sizing - though of course you will need to take into account the cell conversion efficiency of your solar arrays to determine power generated for a given area!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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