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Cleantech Spotlight: Solar at the International Space Station

Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station (ISS), is noted for sharing some spectacular pictures of the place we call home. Browsing through his pictures – you can follow him at @Cmdr_Hadfield – you wouldn’t be hard pressed to find one recurring subject in his album: solar panels.

Once upon a time, space stations and solar panels were futuristic goals.  Today, the two work together so innovative research can be conducted. Commander Hadfield commented in one tweet,

“The Station Solar Arrays serve a vital function, but also make a lovely mosaic when aligned in concert with the sun.”

Cool Facts about the ISS’s solar arrays:

  • The rotatable solar array wings – 8 in total – work together with rechargeable batteries to continuously power the football-field sized orbiting lab.

  • The panels cover an area of 27,000 sq. ft. and could cover the US Senate Chamber three times over.

  • Building the space station was a group effort between 15 countries; each building out various parts of the station. The solar arrays and truss structure that supports them are among the list of US contributed parts.

  • The ISS’s power system is the largest to be constructed in space.

Beyond being a technical innovation, the solar power system is critical for research to be conducted, space station operation, and the comfortable survival of astronauts onboard. Here are some cool facts on the support the panels provide:

  • Since 2000, 5 international space agencies have continuously occupied the ISS to conduct research projects.

  • The space stations research is not limited to one field; it houses experiments in various fields. Fields include astrobiology, meteorology, robotics, and medicine.

  • Research on board is helping shed light on problems we encounter here on earth. For example, analysis of long term space exposure on the human body is revealing insight on problems like muscle atrophy and bone loss.

  • The space station also supports educational programs for students on Earth. Students have the opportunity to develop experiments for the astronauts and engage with them through radio, video link, and email.

Photo credit: PBS, Nasa,

About Jade Jones

Jade Jones is a Mosaic Fellow and part of the Mosaic Blog Leadership Team. She is an electrical engineering grad that swayed to cleantech after joining UCSB’s Engineers Without Borders chapter. Since graduating, she has worked with multiple organizations focused on advancing economic, environmental, and social prosperity.



  1. […] do we get to see some amazing shots of our beautiful planet but we get a glimpse at some of the solar arrays aboard the international space station, which cover an area of over 27,000 sq. ft. Just like our first solar movie, Gravity has two very […]

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