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Spring Semester and Tilted Solar Cells

This week is the first week of classes for the spring semester. This is rather late for a college to be starting classes, but as I mentioned in our last blog MIT has the Individual Activities Period (IAP) for most of January. This is the fun week of figuring out classes, and bugging your Adviser every other day. I have managed to submit two add/drop forms by the second day of the semester. Let’s hope this trend doesn’t continue. So what does a nuclear Engineering student take? This semester I am taking thermal-fluids engineering, programming in MATLAB, Applied Nuclear Physics, and Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics.

Besides classes I have also been working on an interesting project for the solar car. Right now I am working on modeling the power output from possible array designs for our next car. I am working with the aerodynamics team to give them feedback so we can balance the aerodynamics with solar array output. In my research for this I came across this programming library called PVLIB which was developed by the PV Performance Modeling Collaborative at Sandia National Labs. This library is making my life so much easier by predicting the solar irradiance, calculating the “effective irradiance” for a single cell, and just doing all the complex (real numbers only) math I didn’t want to code. Now just to model a few hundred solar cells that move!

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Test Driving at Palmer Motorsport Park

This Monday (13 July) we had a great day of testing at Palmer Motorsport Park, a new 2.3 mile track located less than two hours from the shop in the hills of Massachusetts. Palmer Motorsport Park was generous enough to donate to us this track time making them one of our newest sponsors. This track testing was extremely helpful for, as it allowed us to stress test the dynamics and handling of the car, while not having to worry about other cars on the road. We were able to push the car at high speeds through the course’s steep hills and tight turns safely. The drivers gained valuable experience with the car in these conditions and learned to drive the solar car efficiently to conserve battery energy.

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The day began rather early at our shop. We quickly loaded our gear into the truck and chase car, and headed west for Palmer, MA. Along the way there we were able to practice driving as and chase and lead for the solar car; although Arcturus was in the trailer, so some imagination was required. Once we arrived we were graciously greeted by the Owner and Caretaker, and we are able to quickly unload with their help.

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In the first few laps of testing we found a few minor improvements that could be made. Once we had implemented these Arcturus was running even better than before. We were then able to focus more on getting the drivers more comfortable with Arcturus, and the track. Each driver did a few slow starting laps to get used to the course’s tight turns and hills. Then each successive lap was bumped up to a higher speed. By the end of the day each driver was driving at high speeds, while also managing to be very energy efficient. They were able to better understand how to drive Arcturus at high speeds with minimal power draw, and practiced coasting and using regenerative breaking on the many downhill parts.

At the end of the day we had gotten in a good 7 hours of testing, had gathered valuable data for strategy, and even more important driver experience.

Check out some of the pictures from the day:

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Body Work

It’s January! Classes start in February, so we’re at the shop every day. One of our major tasks is finishing the body. We’re getting buff and getting cut to improve future performance. Chopper del Sol is shaping up to be a lean mean endurance machine, with the ability to last a long time under the hot Australian sun.

In addition to working on the body, we’re redesigning the electronics and taking care of details for the race. 9 months to go!

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