NASA’s Lewis Research Center conducted extensive research programs in the 1960s and 1970s to develop systems that provide electrical power in space. One system, the Brayton cycle engine, converted solar thermal energy into electrical power. This system operated on a closed-loop Brayton thermodynamic cycle. The Brayton system relied on this large mirror to collect radiation from the sun. The mirror concentrated the Sun's rays on a heat storage receiver which warmed the Brayton system’s working fluid, a helium-xenon gas mixture. The heated fluid powered the system’s generator which produced power.
In the mid-1960s Lewis researchers constructed this 30-foot diameter prototype of a parabolic solar mirror for the Brayton cycle system. The mirror had to be rigid, impervious to micrometeorite strikes, and lightweight. This mirror was comprised of twelve 1-inch thick magnesium plate sections that were coated with aluminum. The mirror could be compactly broken into its sections for launch.