Alta scales up PV production for SmallSats
Ability to mass produce thin film GaAs technology could substantially lower satellite costs
Alta Devices has announced it is scaling up production of its GaAs solar cells to meet growing demand for small satellites (SmallSats). Tens of thousands of low-earth orbiting (LEO) SmallSats are expected to be launched over the next decade. They will all rely on the sun for power. Alta Devices solar material has the potential to meet the specific needs of this SmallSat boom.
Solar is the single most expensive hardware component in a small satellite. Alta Devices has developed a proprietary process to mass produce its thin film GaAs technology. The production equipment is being scaled up to produce at much higher volumes and lower cost than other space solar manufacturers. Alta’s ability to produce at this scale could substantially lower the cost of each SmallSat.
Furthermore, Alta Devices flexible solar cells provide a new level of mechanical and design flexibility for the satellite industry. Alta’s technology can be mounted to thin, flexible, low-mass deployable structures allowing creative design approaches to maximising the solar array. These include coiled carbon fibre booms, flat-packed, polymer-based accordion-style arrays, or even inflatable structures. This allows more compact design of the high-power solar arrays required to power high-speed LEO communication satellites.
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 to 100 times larger, thus eliminating breakage, lowering cost and having no exposed electrical interconnects. Alta says 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, Alta’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.
According to filings disclosed by the US Federal Communications Commission, over 15,000 LEO SmallSats are planned for deployment in the near future. The applications of these satellites include communications, scientific research, military intelligence, remote sensing, and new technology development.
Over the coming years, Alta Devices plans to produce tens of megawatts of solar. Manufacturing will take place at Alta Devices corporate facility in Sunnyvale, California and at an international manufacturing facility. In April this year, Alta Devices solar was used on a successful mission to power over 60 ThinSats launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Alta Devices is working with top satellite manufacturers for the deployment of its technology on several upcoming launches.
Alta Devices CEO, Jian Ding stated: “Now that we are established in the HALE UAV/HAPS market, we are committed to enabling LEO satellite projects with our unique technology. We believe our solution will meet the needs of this fast-growing market.”