Mars vehicle fleet is 100% solar powered

While solar technology is slowly taking off here on Earth, one planet has dramatically increased its use. Mars now has the highest proportion of solar powered vehicles anywhere in the solar system - with 100% of its fleet now being solar powered.

In fact, it even managed to double the size of its fleet in a single day, when NASA landed a second vehicle on Mars at the end of January.

The two Mars exploration vehicles, Spirit and Opportunity, are both powered by 140 watts of solar power. They each carry two rechargeable batteries that are energised by the solar cells while the vehicles continue NASA’s quest to understand the role of water on Mars.

The cells are manufactured by Spectrolab, a Boeing subsidiary, and employ a three layered structure. Each layer converts a different portion of the solar spectrum into electricity. The solar panels were folded to fit inside the vehicles for the trip to Mars. Once on the surface, however, they unfold to form a total area of 1.3 square metres.

In comparison with solar powered vehicles on Earth, the Mars fleet falls short on a couple of points. The top speed is a mere two inches per second, and the average speed is half an inch per second. The price may also put off Earth bound buyers, at US$800 million for the pair.

They do, however, feature four-wheel drive.

Beagle 2, the British Mars exploration craft, was also fitted with Spectrolab solar cells and panels. Contact with this vehicle though, has yet to be established.

By David Hopkins.

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