Smaller satellites require a light, compact and efficient power generation system that is still robust enough to withstand launch and in-orbit operation
In this post we give a brief overview of satellite solar panels and arrays, sharing listings of multiple products available on the global marketplace – if you would like to skip the introductory material and instead get straight to the product listings, please click here.
Unlike larger satellites where the surface area available on the external structures is much greater, CubeSats, nanosatellites and other small satellites have far less volume that can be given to solar panels.
A 1U CubeSat for example will have an area of just 10 cm x 10 cm on each face in order to accommodate a solar panel.
In addition, solar panels can also not be mounted on surfaces that need to accommodate other components, such as planar antennas, optical sensors, camera lenses, and access ports.
In spite of these limitations there are several different solar panels available on the market, featuring a variety of solar cells for space applications, which work with the severe physical restrictions imposed by smallsats and the CubeSat (and smaller) form factor.
Key performance criteria for selecting the right solar panel
Aside from the size of the panels themselves, there are several important criteria to consider when choosing the satellite solar panel or array:
- Generation of energy in accordance with the orbit functioning requirements of the satellite
- Compliance with the voltage and current levels acceptance by the power conditioning and distribution system within the satellite
- Compliance to launch vehicles and the loads specified by launch providers
- Compatibility with the temperature range that the satellite can face during launch and in orbit
- Compatibility with all the materials used within the satellite and the nature of their behavior due to thermal expansion and contraction during launch and orbit
- Reliable actuation for deployment of the panels (there are multiple options available such as flexible joints, shape memory alloys, torsion spring in hinge, coil springs, motors, etc.)
- Ability to withstand physical launch stresses
Alongside the supplier location, heritage and similar commercial factors that influence satellite solar panel costs, these criteria should be used to assess what system will work best for your mission and timescales.
Integration of solar panels with other sub-systems
For a satellite solar panel to work effectively it needs to be successfully integrated into the craft alongside the other equipment in use.
Here are a few tips and tricks on how to integrate a panel efficiently with other sub-systems in order to gain more value than simply generating power:
- To allow easier integration and flexibility while assembling a smallsat, nanosat or CubeSat, solar panels can be efficiently packaged along with other sub-systems, such as structures. A mechanical back plate design, based on aluminium machined alloy, may be used with standard solar panel mounting holes to perform such an integration.
- Sensor packages including an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, coarse sun sensor and temperature sensor (external and internal) can be integrated into such a design in order to accommodate elements of the attitude control and electrical power system.
- Multiple independent Remove Before Flight (RBF) circuits can be added in different locations (X,Y or Z solar panels) in order to comply with different deployers’ and launch service providers’ requirements.
- It is possible to embed magnetorquers that can be configured to provide different levels of torque and power consumption in order to comply with different mission profiles.
Deployable solar panels
Traditionally smaller satellites have not had deployable arrays to generate more power for advanced missions or more power-hungry payloads.
Today, due to advances in new technology and electronic minitiarisation, it is possible for smaller satellites to use various deployable solar array solutions.
Such technology typically utilises a ‘hold down and release mechanism’ using a spring-loaded slider that ensures safe and effective hold down functionality for the deployable panels.
The slider is locked by a locking arm system that can be released with a dedicated pin-pusher for deployment.
Satellite solar panels on the global marketplace
In the list below we have rounded up a range of commercially-available satellite solar arrays and panels on the global marketplace for space.
Please note that this list will be updated when new products are added to the marketplace – so please check back for more or sign up for our mailing list to get all the updates.
The SM-SP family of solar panels by NPC Spacemind
The NPC Spacemind SM-SP portfolio is a family of solar panels designed to provide a modular and flexible solution for nanosatellite applications. The products are fully compliant with SM Cubesat Structures as well as with other COTS and custom Cubesat components. As standard, the SM Solar panels include a set of sensors such as thermal sensor, coarse sun sensor, IMU9DOF and a user definable communication port.
An optional, embedded and configurable magnetorquer (MTQ) is available, along with up to 4 separate RBF circuits. For individual mission requirements specific solutions can be developed, both in terms of electrical performances and specific panel shape and cutout. The different products in the range are:
- SP1X – 1U Solar Panel XY
- SP1Z – 1U Solar Panel Z
- SP3X – 3U Solar Panel XY
- SP00 – Solar Panel interstage
The PVP Solar Panel portfolio is a customizable series based on a simple set of design principles, providing a flexible and high quality set of photovoltaic solar panels. Designed on an aluminium back plate, with functionality as solar panel back plate, structure and shielding, the cells are based on 2mm Al7075-T6 laminated with Kapton substrate and can be customised to accommodate payload cut-out, external antennas or sensors.
The PVP series is available with a deployable option in order to maximise power input for the satellite platform. This includes long- and short-axis deployment on 3U, 6U, 8U, 12U and 16U CubeSats. The design also integrates ancillary systems or components for communication and ADCS, presenting an agile solar panel design that offers dense integrated functionality and a high level of freedom that is customisable for mission needs.
Cubesat solar panels by EnduroSat
EnduroSat manufactures three different-sized models of CubeSat solar panel. The panels are equipped with CESI Solar cells of type CTJ30, with up to a 29.5% efficiency, and are designed to maximise the available effective cell area. Networks of sensors and sub-systems can be seamlessly integrated with the solar panels, including sun sensors, magnetorquers and gyroscopes. The products are:
1U CubeSat solar panel X/Y – equipped with 2 solar cells providing up to 2.4 W per panel in LEO.
1U CubeSat solar panel Z – utilising two highly-efficient triple junction solar cells and supporting multiple integrated sensors.
1.5U CubeSat solar panel – equipped with 3 solar cells providing up to 3.6 W per panel in LEO.
3U CubeSat solar panel – equipped with 7 solar cells providing up to 8.43 W per panel in LEO.
The GaAs Solar Array and M6P Solar Panels by NanoAvionics
The NanoAvionics GaAs solar arrays and panels are made of high-performance triple junction space grade solar cells, for missions with high power requirements. The solar cells reach up to 29.5% efficiency and contain bypass diodes to protect in-series connected solar cell strings from shadowing effects or individual cell failure. Solar cells are assembled using NASA-qualified low outgassing adhesive materials in cleanroom environments. NanoAvionics also provides customised deployable solar panels.
SpaceQuest has manufactured and delivered over 150 solar panels for satellites of various sizes, from 1U cubesats to 1,000 kg commercial craft. Featuring efficiencies of 18.0–29.5% and output power of 880–1200 mW/Cell, the space-qualified solutions can be customised to suit different mission requirements, with a variety of cell, substrate and testing options available.
Solar panels and arrays by Blue Canyon Technologies
Blue Canyon Technologies manufactures solar panels and arrays for smallsats. The products are available in various different configurations, from simple body-mounted panels to multi-wing deployed arrays with the option to gimbal up to two arrays. Functionality is included for solar array input power, on-board or external batteries, charge control (Peak Power or Direct Energy), power regulation and distribution, and data acquisition. The products are:
3U Solar Array – with solar array power from 28 to 42 W and bus voltage of 6.18 VDC.
6U/12U Solar Panel – with solar array power from 48 to 118 W and bus voltage of 19.2 to 38.4 VDC.
Microsat Solar Panel – with solar array power from 192 to 384 W and bus voltage of 38.4 VDC.
The solar panel portfolio of DHV Technology
DHV Technology manufactures solar panels in a range of sizes with both standardised and custom models available. The models have extensive flight heritage and are thoroughly tested under different launch loads and at various temperatures. The individual products are:
1U solar panel – 2.42 W panels that can feature a magnetometer, temperature sensor and sun sensor.
3U solar panel – double deployable solar panels with 29.6 W power (4 x strings) and weighing approximately 410g.
6U/12U solar panel – CubeSat-compatible solar panels available in customised sizes and in honeycomb substrates, polyimide and aluminium.
Designed and qualified for maximum power generation and ease of platform integration, the Photon panels aim to provide maximum power generation from any side of the satellite. In order to provide additional capacity to the CubeSat it is possible to add deployable solar panels to the spacecraft deployed along the long edge of the spacecraft and these can be single, double or even triple deployable depending on customer power requirements. The panels primarily use Spectrolab XTJ-Prime solar cells but AAC Clyde Space also has experience working with AZUR and SolAero alternatives.
All Photon Solar Panels are constructed from aluminum coupled with PCB inserts and proprietary hold down release mechanisms, leveraging decades of in-orbit heritage. The panels are constructed from low out-gassing materials, and are staked and head-locked for flight. The side solar panels are designed to fit at the side plates of AAC Clyde Space CubeSat structures and are designed to NASA GEVS standards
Space qualified triple junction GaAs solar cells with integrated magnetic coils, sun sensors and temperature sensors. The panels have a power rating of 2.3 W per unit and a 30% efficiency. They include an MCU for simple, decentralised access and have a mass of 43g, 69g or 97g respectively for the 1U, 2U and 3U models.
Pumpkin, Inc. manufactures a range of 1/1.5/2/3U fixed side panels and 1/1.5/2/3U/6U deployable panels for CubeSats and nanosatellites. The panels are space-proven and have been deployed from LEO to GTO orbits. They feature the Pumpkin Modular Deployable Solar Array System (PMDSAS) and all-cell / interconnect / coverglass (CIC) construction with triple-junction cells. The solar cells have an efficiency rating of 30.7% or better and are tested to NASA GEVS (14grms) levels.
Solar panels by Innovative Solutions In Space B.V. (ISIS)
ISIS manufactures a range of CubeSat solar panels available both in single panels and as arrays. The panels are body-mounted on aluminimum substrate and include sun and temperature sensors. Available from 1U to 12U sizes, the panels are made from GaAs triple-junction solar cells manufactured by AZUR Space and are provided with protective cover and harnessing. The specific products available are:
- 1U CubeSat Solar Panel
- 2U CubeSat Solar Panel
- 3U CubeSat Solar Panel
- 6U CubeSat Solar Panel
- Custom Solar Panels for CubeSats and Nanosats – for non-standard configurations and missions
The DSA portfolio by the Ecuadorian Space Agency (EXA)
The EXA DSA/1A (Titanium Deployable Solar Array for 1U) is the entry level product of a family of deployable solar arrays for CubeSats in the range of 1U to 6U. The 1U is normally body-mounted and not deployable, and consists of a 2-cell configuration.
The deployable arrays from EXA are composed of 5 panels, 3 on the top and 2 on the bottom, that attach to the CubeSat structure just as another solar panel. Once in orbit the array deploys to its full extension. The system includes deploy and release contact sensors and custom options are available on request, such as sun and temperature sensors, a 7-panel configuration or a choice of solar cells.
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