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Solar Energy for Space Exploration
 
How does NASA provide energy to the International Space Station? How will NASA provide energy for research habitats on the moon and Mars?

Astronaut working to repair solar arrays on the International Space Station during a space walk

Scott Parazynski, anchored to a foot restraint on the end of Discovery's boom, works to repair a damaged solar array on the International Space Station. The 7-hour, 19-minute spacewalk was performed during the STS-120 mission. Image Credit: NASA

Solar Energy for Space Exploration is a problem-based learning, or PBL, activity. The culminating project requires students to propose and defend a design to provide power to a lunar or Martian research habitat for six explorers. To prepare for this final project, students investigate the variables that affect the operation of solar panels; learn about energy, power and circuits; design a solar energy system to meet the power requirements for their own home; and learn about the solar panels and energy use on the International Space Station, or ISS.

This activity from NASA offers an interesting context in which students may apply their understanding of energy concepts such energy transfer, electrical power and circuits. National Standards state that students in grades 5-8 are to have an understanding of these topics. Trying to solve the problem of how to provide solar energy for the ISS and for research habitats on the moon and Mars presents an excellent way to introduce and reinforce the unique position of Earth in the solar system. For students in grades 9-12, the study of photovoltaics can be a great way to demonstrate practical applications of many physical science standards.

Objectives:
  1. Given solar cells or panels, students list variables that affect the operation of solar panels and explain how these variables affect the power production of solar panels.

  2. Through computer simulations and laboratory investigations with electricity, students create parallel and series circuits, calculate power, and apply this knowledge to solve a theoretical problem on the ISS.

  3. By analyzing the power requirements of their own homes, students design a solar power system that could supply the power for their homes.

  4. Using the ISS as a model, students propose and defend a design to provide power for a lunar or Martian research habitat for six explorers.
Solar Energy for Space Exploration Teacher's Guide

This 49-page document may be downloaded in whole or in parts.
Download All (PDF)
Download Part 1 -- Teacher's Guide (PDF)
Download Part 2 -- Teacher's Resources (PDF)
Download Part 3 -- Student Assignments (PDF)
Download Part 4 -- Student Resources (PDF)

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