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Materials Selection and Processing Techniques for Small Spacecraft Solar Cell Arrays
Keywords: Small Satellites, Solar Cells, Materials and Processes
Body mounted germanium substrate solar cell arrays form the faces of many small satellite designs to provide the primary power source on orbit. High efficiency solar cells are made affordable for University scale satellite programs as triangular devices trimmed from wafer scale solar cells. The smaller cells allow the array designs to pack tightly around antenna mounts and payload instruments, giving the board design more flexibility. We are investigating the reliability of solar cells attached to FR-4 and carbon core laminate printed circuit boards. FR-4 circuit boards have significantly higher thermal expansion coefficients and lower thermal conductivities than germanium. This thermal expansion coefficient mismatch between the FR-4 board and the components used cause major concern for the power system when considering a failure of the solar cells, such as a series of cracked cells or faulty solder joints. These failures are most likely to happen with a longer orbital lifetime and longer exposure to the harsh environment the satellite will experience while in orbit. Carbon core laminates provide an advanced alternative because the core thickness can be selected to more closely match the device substrate, or at least provide a wider thermal expansion coefficient range to match the components on the board. We are also comparing various methods of attaching the solar cells to the printed circuit boards, using solder paste alone and in parallel with a silicone adhesive, considering the application of these adhesives by comparing the solder joints under x-ray when applied by screen printing versus stencil printing, and looking closely at the cleaning processes for array assembly. Storage, vacuum exposure, thermal cycling, functional and vibration testing will be used to compare the survivability and performance of the solar arrays.
N. Meetra Torabi, Graduate Research Assistant
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY

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