Polymer Solar Cells Go Into Space

May 16, 2011

The polymer solar cells developed in the MSE department have taken a leap into space.  As part of the Materials International Space Station Experiments (MISSE) experimental package carried out in collaboration with Boeing, the polymer solar cells developed in Prof. Alex Jen’s research lab are being deployed to the International Space Station (ISS) via the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s STS-134 launch mission on May 16, 2011.


The polymer solar cells will be tested for stability and performance in extreme conditions of radiation, heat, cold, vacuum and atomic oxygen environment.  Experiments will be carried out for approximately one year on board ISS.  The data from this year-long experiment will provide a better understanding of the durability of these solar cells when they are exposed to extreme environments and will guide the development of better polymer solar cell technology.  Potential applications based on the knowledge gained from this mission include incorporation of polymer solar cells in the design of future spacecrafts which will help reduce cost and weight.


MISSE experiments, which started in 2001, have been flown in space on 5 different space shuttle launch missions.  Materials samples and devices are carried in Passive Experiment Containers (PECS) (approximately 2 feet by 2 feet) and are delivered to the International Space Station via space shuttles, where they are then deployed to the outside of the ISS.  There have been thousands of materials samples investigated in these experiments for applications ranging from physiology to practical engineering with industry as well as NASA and DOD participations.  The current mission, MISSE-8, carries solar cells, spacecraft materials, and lightweight computing devices.  Because the space shuttle missions are drawing  to a close, the MISSE-8 also represents one of the last opportunities for such experiments.  The ability to carry out experiments on the polymer solar cells as part of the MISSE program is a rare opportunity and marks an important milestone for organic photovoltaic research at the UW.





















NASA Image: STS105-346-007. Working on MISSE experiment installed on the outside of the Quest Airlock during the first extravehicular activity (EVA) of the STS-105 mission.


Here are links to the current mission, past missions, and the shuttle program:



STS-134 Launch Mission:



Contact Us

UW Department of Materials Science & Engineering

phone: (206) 543-2600
fax: (206) 543-3100