Human-made satellites have a variety of important jobs. Some are launching into orbit for communication purposes, and others are there to monitor data for weather forecasting and similar activities.
That alone is no news to you. But how do these milestones of technology stay powered without being connected to an infrastructural grid like we are here on Earth? It’s not easy to keep the satellites up and running to do their job.
Solar energy is essential
Satellites that launch into Earth orbit are equipped with solar panel arrays that look a little bit like wings. They are not there to navigate the satellite though. They contain solar cells made of silicon. This material can turn sunlight into electrical current and therefore power the satellite.
Because only about 20% of the sunlight can convert to power, the arrays have to be large to capture enough electricity. The technology needs to be designed to be very energy efficient as each array can only generate about 4kW of power. This isn’t much if you’re facing modern day machine standards. Hot plates, water kettles or microwaves we use in our homes mostly consume more than 1kW on their own.
And when there’s no sunlight?
Of course, there are periods in the life of a satellite without exposure to the sun. To make sure the satellites remain functional throughout eclipses, they are equipped with batteries that charge up when there is sunlight, so they can proceed to work even if they move into the Earth’s shadow.
When they are no longer receiving sunlight, the batteries kick in and resume to provide the satellite with power. Many satellites are stacked with up to five batteries, but depending on the use case this could change as well.
I hope you got all the answers you were looking for when you opened this article. So, satellites are not charged at the Earth with high hopes for running as long as possible in orbit. They are equipped with solar power panels to generate power on their own when exposed to the sun and if not run on batteries, that were previously charged with the same sunlight. A great idea and concept on long-living operations for a satellite.
What do you think? Have an alternative idea on how to power satellites? Any other feedback? I’d love to hear from you below in the comment section!