As Shenzhou V departed from its rocket carrier and entered into the preset orbit, the two pairs of solar panels stretched out like huge wings, converting solar energy into electricity to power China's first manned spacecraft.
"With the functions of power supply and charging, the solar panels work like a small power plant," explained Kong Xudong, chief designer of the solar panels. As the spaceship is equipped with batteries with limited capacity, the Sun will be the main source of energy supply.
The panels, built at a cost of more than 10 million yuan (over US$1.2 million), are made of the most advanced lightweight composite materials, according to the expert.
The difficulty in designing and manufacturing lies in how to make the panels adaptable to such uncertainties as the complicated environment and the dense plasma, atomic oxygen and ultraviolet irradiation in the low orbit, which are harmful to the structure and chips of the panels.
The craft circles the Earth once every 90 minutes and has to stand the tests of vast temperature differentials up to 180 degrees centigrade. This requires the solution to the contraction and expansion problems of the materials used.
The experts said that they had developed a testing device that simulates the space environment and used special materials to build the panels.
(Xinhua News Agency October 15, 2003)