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Application of Thin Film Photovoltaic CIGS Cells to Extend the Endurance of Small Unmanned Aerial Systems


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Vulnerability and unknowns are characteristic in all military missions. With an end goal to enhance situational awareness and provide the military unit an advantage, small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) have been utilized to provide surveillance and reconnaissance information. A noteworthy restriction of SUAS is the constrained flight endurance due to their limited onboard battery capacity. Currently, most military SUAS are dependent on their onboard battery supply, which limits flight time to about 60 to 200 minutes before the vehicle must land for replacement/recharge of its battery. The integration of photovoltaic (PV) cells onto SUAS has been proven to extend their flight endurance. In this project, we extended the flight endurance by supplementing the onboard battery with encapsulated copper-indium-gallium di-selenide (CIGS) thin-film photovoltaic (TFPV) cells. The completely incorporated framework was tentatively tested to demonstrate the practicality and constraints of supplementing the onboard battery source with a PV array. Due to our limited access to the Puma unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), our estimate of the Pumas extended flight endurance with PV array is hypothesized based on its operational manual and the operating experience of the Evolving Resources Incorporated (ERI). On that basis, we conclude that the inclusion of the CIGS TFPV cells theoretically exceeds the power consumption of the Puma UAV. The Pumas estimated flight time endurance is dramatically increased, creating an indefinite day flight time under ideal sunny conditions as compared to its original 200 minutes. We recommend further study and testing of the integration of CIGS TFPV cells with the Puma UAV or other Group 1 SUAS.



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