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7 August 2019

Alta Devices scaling up solar production to meet demand for low-earth orbit SmallSats

Alta Devices of Sunnyvale, CA, USA (a subsidiary of Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Ltd of Beijing, China) is scaling up solar production to meet growing demand for small satellites. With tens of thousands of low-earth orbiting (LEO) SmallSats expected to be launched over the next decade, Alta Devices says that its solar material has the potential to meet the specific needs of this boom.

Solar is the single most expensive hardware component in a small satellite. Alta Devices has developed proprietary equipment to mass produce its thin-film gallium arsenide (GaAs). This equipment is being scaled up for production at much higher volumes and lower cost than other space solar manufacturers, and Alta claims that its ability to produce at this scale is unique and can substantially lower the cost of each SmallSat.

Furthermore, Alta’s flexible solar cells provide high mechanical and design flexibility for the satellite industry. The technology can be mounted to thin, flexible, low-mass deployable structures, allowing creative design approaches to maximizing the solar array. These include coiled carbon-fiber booms, flat-packed, polymer-based accordioned arrays, or even inflatable structures. This allows more compact design of the high-power solar arrays required to power high-speed LEO communication satellites.

Finally, traditional photovoltaic assemblies (PVAs) are composed of hundreds or thousands of small solar cells, each protected with a tile of glass, connected to each other through individual metallic welds, which are then carefully grouted to prevent electrical arcing and attack from the space environment. In contrast, Alta’s space product will consist of flexible, glass-free units that are 10-100 times larger, eliminating breakage, lowering cost and having no exposed electrical interconnects. Alta says that its space product will enable bonding to customer substrates using a large-area, high-volume vacuum bonding process, as opposed to mounting individual cells or CICs (coverglass interconnected cells).

Overall, the firm’s goal is to provide LEO satellite manufacturers with a better balance of solar conversion efficiency, reduced array weight, cell durability, speed of deployment, and cost compared with conventional space solar cells.

SmallSat market for LEO constellations

According to filings disclosed by the Federal Communications Commission, over 15,000 LEO SmallSats are planned for deployment in the near future. Applications include communications, scientific research, military intelligence, remote sensing, and new technology development.

Over the coming years, Alta plans to produce tens of megawatts of solar cells. Manufacturing will take place at Alta’s corporate facility in Sunnyvale and at an international manufacturing facility. In April, Alta’s solar cells were used on a mission to power over 60 ThinSats launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The firm is also working with satellite manufacturers for the deployment of its technology on several upcoming launches.

“Now that we are established in the HALE [high-altitude long-endurance] UAV/HAPS [unmanned aerial vehicle/high-altitude pseudo satellite] market, we are committed to enabling LEO satellite projects with our unique technology,” says CEO Jian Ding. “We believe our solution will meet the needs of this fast-growing market.”

See related items:

Alta Devices solar cells powering ThinSats on Cygnus satellite launch

Alta Devices’ GaAs solar cells being used by Twiggs Space Lab, Nearspace Launch and Virginia Space

Tags: Alta Devices GaAs PV Hanergy

Visit: www.altadevices.com

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