Exploration of the solar system is entering its seventh decade. Along the way, innovations in power systems have played a critical role in expanding this exploration campaign, which now features missions to Kuiper Belt objects and interstellar space. The key role of power systems is evidenced by the Voyager spacecraft; these systems that still operate on radioisotope thermoelectric generators after more than 40 years in space. The Juno mission is utilizing the largest area solar array ever flown into deep space, operating at the farthest distance an array has ever powered a spacecraft.
Innovation continues to drive an ever-growing list of mission-enhancing and mission-enabling technologies for deep space exploration, including higher efficiency power electronics, low-irradiance/low-temperature solar cells, radioisotope and fission power systems, and advanced energy storage technologies. Exciting new missions driven by these innovations are on the horizon, including sample return missions, powered flight on Mars and Titan, exploration of the ocean worlds, missions to the ice giants, and plans to return to the Moon. Advanced mission concepts such as in situ resource utilization, power beaming, climbing robots, landers surviving the lunar night and subsurface access/exploration on ocean worlds will all depend on more capable power systems in the coming decades.
The 2020 Conference on Advanced Power Systems for Deep Space Exploration will pick up where the 2018 conference left off and look again to the future of deep space power systems.