Lessons from the International Space Station

As the US has just ended its space shuttle programme, the International Space Station (ISS) has witnessed a number of experiments during its lifetime. Amongst these there have been several that could be beneficial for the future of alternative and renewable energy developments.

The Space Station

The ISS itself is a great case study on how to use alternative energy.

It operates with twenty solar arrays of a total length of 73 metres, and it uses various Sun tracking systems throughout a day. Each solar array wing has two arrays and there are 32,800 solar cells on each, providing the same amount of power as thirty average houses would require on Earth. US President, Barack Obama even congratulated the astronauts in 2009 for installing solar panels, a very important step in the field of renewable energy research.

As water is very expensive to send to the space station, the water filtration system has been developed to convert wastewater into clean drinking water from sweat, urine or even respiration. Astronauts also don’t use flowing water for hand washes but wet cloths, which are significantly more water-efficient than running the tap.

The insulation used on the station has to withstand both extreme heat and cold, thus it has to be very flexible and efficient, which could become a valuable solution for home insulation on Earth too.  The company Hy-Tech Thermal Solutions already offers a paint, which significantly improves house insulation and which was developed from NASA’s thermal research projects.

Also, NASA’s Research Centres have been involved with the improvement of various solutions for the smooth running of the ISS, one of them being the research of fuel cells, a promising future solution for vehicles.

Experiments

Astronauts at the ISS regularly conduct experiments, which have already given several technology innovations to the world. Such experiments also include potential developments in the alternative and renewable energy sector.

One of the well-known experiments was the research on whether microgravity can makeJatropha curcas plant cells grow faster to produce biofuel, named National Lab Pathfinder-Cells 3.

Another example is the experiment MISSE-5 (Materials International Space Station Experiment – 5 (MISSE-5)), in the frame of which the Forward Technology Solar Cell Experiment (FTSCE) investigated the durability and the electrical output of 39 advanced solar cell samples that could be used on future space exploration vehicles. [10]

Also, a hydrogen experiment resulted in the weakest flame ever, which could be very beneficial for the development of cleaner burning cars.

Space solar power

The large solar arrays of the ISS generated great interest in researching the potential of space solar power.

It could provide the largest source for solar energy on a very long term, and with wireless power transmission solutions it may be used for electricity networks or transportation systems on Earth.

Besides the main challenge, that it’s rather expensive to develop and the dangers of space debris to the device, it has numerous advantages. These include no emissions, no competition for water or food and it’s not reduced by cloud cover or affected by the time of the day, so it could be used virtually anywhere on Earth.

Just as space exploration has led to several innovations, the International Space Station may hold the key to new potential solutions for alternative energy development on Earth.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image from NASA

 

 

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