Tempe, Arizona-based Solestial announced it has been awarded $849,954 for a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The contract entails Solestial developing 50 kW solar array wings outfit with its ultra-thin solar blanket technology.
Solestial develops ultra-thin, low mass, radiation-hardened solar blankets designed for the harsh conditions and restrictive weight requirements of space-based PV. The company said its 20-micron thick cells demonstrate over 20% efficiency.
The SBIR proposal, titled “Next Generation Silicon Based Solar Arrays for Space Stations and Other Permanent Space Infrastructure” adds on to a $149,987 Phase I contract from January 2023. The contracts were made possible through a new pilot program, SBIR Ignite, that funds commercially viable technologies from U.S. startups to support research, development, and economic growth.
The 18-month Phase II contract will support a collaborative development of spacecraft solar wings along with Opterus Research and Development. The contract includes plans for the development of an array and space-based testing.
“The private space stations and lunar bases of tomorrow will require a tremendous amount of power, and currently, there are no affordable and scalable space solar technologies that can accommodate this demand,” said Stan Herasimenka, Solestial co-founder and chief executive officer. “Our affordable and low-mass solar blankets will help to overcome size, cost, and manufacturing limitations to power large-scale spacecraft and surface infrastructure.”
Opterus will integrate Solestial’s solar blankets with its patent pending Retractable-Rollable Mast Array (R-ROMA) deployable solar structure. The R-ROMA is a tensioned solar blanket array with double z-folding panels deployed by a single rollable composite boom. The partnership between Solestial and Opterus will marry the two technologies to overcome the size, cost, and mass limitations of existing solar array technologies.
Solestial stated intent to achieve 50 kW scale and 200 W per kg array-level specific power while reducing costs.
The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) independently validated the ability of Solestial’s ultrathin silicon solar cells to effectively anneal radiation damage under sunlight at 90 C (194 F). This means the cells essentially self-heal under radiation damage.
Solestial’s silicon solar cells open circuit voltage dropped by only 4% and maintained 96% of initial value after being exposed to radiation equivalent to 10 years in low Earth orbit.
The company has been developing its technology for over a decade, beginning its life in Arizona State University. It underwent a $10 million seed funding round in October 2022. The most recent SBIR Ignite contract marks the ninth such award received by the company, bringing total funding from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Air Force to nearly $4 million to date.
Solestial targets a 2025 launch of a manufacturing facility capable of producing 10 MW per year of solar blankets. Read more about pv magazine USA coverage of solar applications in space.
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