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  • Satellite Evolution

US Air Force awards contract to Above: Orbital and Ascent Solar Technologies for in-orbit solar fab

Above: Orbital, Inc. has been awarded a significant contract from the United States Air Force for On-orbit Manufacturing of Thin-Film Solar Photovoltaics in partnership with Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., the leading US innovator in the design and manufacture of featherweight, flexible, and durable CIGS thin-film photovoltaic (PV) solutions.

The Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I Award from the US Air Force is to develop a solar-heated crucible for the manufacturing of lightweight, thin-film solar photovoltaics (PV) on orbit. This technology will enable the development of mass-efficient PV cells that meet the demand of Air Force and Space Force Systems.

"We're pleased to be partnering with Ascent to develop high efficiency, lightweight solar cells that can be manufactured in space," says Rhonda Stevenson, CEO of Above: Orbital. “This is the second SBIR contract from the US Air Force and we believe it will lead to a larger, Phase II award. We are advancing robust on-orbit systems for both defence and commercial applications."

The Air Force has a vital and urgent need to deploy lightweight, robust, and affordable solar PV across the globe as well as in space to meet operational power requirements for Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles, forward operating bases, and space-based power beaming.

“Above’s ability to provide tunable, artificial gravity, coupled with our manufacturing equipment cost and operations, create an ideal scenario for producing thin-film solar in space,” said Dr. Joseph Armstrong, CTO/CSO at Ascent Solar. “There is also an increased benefit when you remove some of the manufacturing constraints that are required on earth, enabling more common and widely available materials to be used in orbit. We look forward to demonstrating our product performance for the U.S. Air Force.”

Above: Orbital has already begun to make an impact in multiple commercial sectors with use cases ranging from in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing to photonics and space tourism.

Earlier this year, Above: Orbital received a $1.7 million Phase II SBIR Award to develop an efficient, lightweight structure to support solar panels, large power, and communications antenna arrays, as well as other space infrastructure functions.

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