Solar Power Takes Off

on August 05, 2011 at 2:30 PM

Solar power is headed to infinity and beyond

NASA‘s Juno spacecraft took off for Jupiter this afternoon, making it the first solar powered probe to travel such a great distance from the sun. Equipped with three large solar panels, Juno launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:25 pm.

NASA has utilized solar panels in past missions, including the launching of Stardust in 1999, but Juno will be the first solar-powered spacecraft to travel further than Mars. Juno is expected to reach its distant destination in July 2016 where it will then orbit 32 times around the solar system’s largest planet.

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Although Jupiter is nearly 500 million miles from the Sun, the probe’s three photovoltaic panels will still produce the 400 watts necessary for operation, according to Science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Sami Asmar. He told

“What drives the decision to pick either solar panels or nuclear is the amount of power demand by the spacecraft instruments,” Asmar told AOL Energy.

“It was judged that there can be a design for solar panels that would meet our power requirements. It seemed like an eloquent way to do it,” he said.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft separates from the Centaur upper stage as the spacecraft leaves Earth orbit on its way to Jupiter. Artist concept, NASA

Solar panels are increasingly being used around the world to power all kinds of devices. In India, one man powered his motorcycle with a solar panels, See: A Motorcycle Powered By The Sun. And in France, someone equipped his hotel boat with solar panels. See: A Solar Powered Luxury Boat.

In the United States, investments in solar power remained strong in the first half on 2011, despite a drop in financing for the clean energy sector as a whole. Read: More Than Meets The Eye In Cleantech Funding.

The Juno spacecraft is shown deploying its three solar arrays in this artist concept