Fact Sheet

Text Size

Education - How Solar Cells Work (Education-Solar_Cells)


Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

Experiment Overview

This content was provided by Christopher J. Ferguson, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Brief Summary

The astronaut will discuss in detail how solar cells work and how they provide energy. The activity is videotaped and for use in classroom lectures.

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Christopher J. Ferguson, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)

  • Jonathan Neubauer, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
  • Developer(s)

    Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Sponsoring Organization

    Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

    ISS Expedition Duration

    April 2006 - September 2006

    Expeditions Assigned


    Previous ISS Missions

    Similar education activities have been performed on Space Shuttle and ISS Expeditions.

    ^ back to top

    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • Education-Solar Cells is designed to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

    • Students discover a basic understanding of electricity and power and the variables that affect the operation of solar panels.

    • Students learn about the power requirements of the International Space Station and how solar arrays supply the necessary power. Students will also discover power requirements of their own homes and how solar power could supply that power.


    The Teaching From Space Office at the NASA's Johnson Space Center worked closely with Astronaut Christopher Ferguson, pilot of STS-115 (Atlantis); Lockheed Martin Corporation; Oklahoma State University and the Student Observation Network to provide classroom versions of solar cells and learning activities to NASA Explorer Schools. These activities have been designed to engage students through the STS-115 primary mission objective, deployment of a new solar array on the International Space Station (ISS). The original suggestion for this activity was brought to Teaching From Space by Ferguson.

    In his free time during the STS-115 mission, Ferguson will demonstrate how solar cells work in front of a video camera. Ferguson will discuss, in detail, how solar cells provide energy; open circuit voltage; and power measurement with resistors. With the aid of LED lights, a visual demonstration of solar flux will also be performed. Following completion, the video will be edited for use in the classroom.

    Lockheed Martin Corporation donated solar cells to this project for educational purposes. Engineering students at Oklahoma State University linked the solar cells together in packs for use in the Space Shuttle demonstration and for distribution to the schools. The NASA Student Observation Network created lessons and activities that will be provided to the NASA Explorer Schools and the Aerospace Education Specialists when teaching this lesson.

    ^ back to top


    Space Applications

    Education-Solar Cells introduces the next generation of explorers to the environment of space.

    Earth Applications

    Using a new approach in the classroom to space flight, science, and mathematics will capture the imagination of students. Allowing students to participate in activities that directly involve NASA will inspire them to pursue careers in science and engineering.

    ^ back to top


    Operational Requirements

    Education-Solar Cells will utilize the solar cell pack assembled by Oklahoma State University students to demonstrate how solar cells work. On the Space Shuttle the demonstration will require video taping of the demonstration.

    Operational Protocols

    One crewmember, astronaut Chris Ferguson, will tape the demonstration during his free time on the mission. Following the mission, the video is returned to Earth for editing and distribution to NASA Explorer Schools nationwide along with the curriculum developed by the Student Observation Network.

    ^ back to top

    Results/More Information

    There are no results to report at this time. (Evans et al. 2009)

    ^ back to top

    Related Websites

    ^ back to top


    image Dan Hern, OSU Masters Student in Aviation and Space Education, works on solar cell hardware that will fly aboard STS-115. Image courtesy of Oklahoma State University.
    + View Larger Image

    Information provided by the investigation team to the ISS Program Scientist's Office.
    If updates are needed to the summary please contact JSC-ISS-Program-Science-Group. For other general questions regarding space station research and technology, please feel free to call our help line at 281-244-6187 or e-mail at JSC-ISS-Payloads-Helpline.