As part of the Iridium NEXT program, we’ve developed a new solar panel design alongside our Iridium Mission Team partners: Spectrolab and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO).
Once in-orbit, each Iridium NEXT satellite will rely on four of these solar panels – together forming a solar array to harness solar energy and supply power. The design incorporates new triple-junction solar cells allowing the solar panels to deliver higher and more consistent levels of performance, while significantly reducing costs.
As an integral part of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation, the new solar panel design successfully underwent extensive testing to ensure it works to specification.
To verify the capabilities of our new design, our solar arrays underwent a rigorous life test and qualification program. This verification procedure allowed us to test every mechanical and electrical configuration of the solar arrays, while testing them in simulated environments reflecting the harsh conditions into which they will be deployed.
The solar arrays were also extensively tested for longevity to ensure they would meet and exceed the lifetime expectations of the Iridium NEXT satellites. The solar cells were exposed to 75,000 thermal cycles, each one representing the Iridium NEXT satellite’s movements in and out of the sun’s radiating heat. The testing demonstrated that each array has a lifespan of almost 19 years of in-orbit operations — 6.5 years longer than the expected lifespan on our current satellites.
The successful completion of the verification testing for the new solar panel design marks another major milestone for the Iridium NEXT program, expected to begin launching in 2015.