23 Nov '11, 5pm

The Competition Between Solar and Nuclear Energy Moves to Mars

NASA’s last two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003 and carried solar panels, but the new Mars rover that the space agency is scheduled to launch on Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral uses nuclear power, a fact that did not escape the partisans of nuclear power here on Earth. But it turns out that both nuclear power and solar power in space have problems. The solar panels on Spirit and Opportunity are gallium-arsenide, a chemistry that is used on Earth but is a niche product, where very high production per square inch is required. Per unit energy produced, if rooftop space is not an issue, silicon-based cells are far less expensive. Solar power worked acceptably on Mars, but with some difficulties. Dust storms sometimes blotted out 90 percent of the sun’s light, and dust collected on the panels themselves; project scientists referred to “cleaning events...

Full article: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/the-competition...

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