[SatNews] Iridium Communications Inc. (Nasdaq:IRDM) has completed an extensive testing program for qualification of its new solar panel design for the Iridium NEXT constellation.
The innovative array that powers the Iridium NEXT satellites, expected to begin launching in 2015, contains four solar panels and will span 9.4 meters when fully extended, developing more than 2 kilowatts of power over a demanding charging cycle in Iridium's LEO. The panel was developed by Spectrolab and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO). These companies are part of the Iridium NEXT Mission Team, led by Iridium's prime contractor and European satellite manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space. The solar arrays are powered by new, larger triple-junction (XTJ) solar cells manufactured from six-inch wafers which yield 50 percent more solar cell surface area than cells used in Iridium's current constellation and deliver higher performance, while reducing costs.
Working closely with Spectrolab, the new design was put through a grueling life test and qualification program to ensure it works to specification using representative sections of the actual panels. The design verification test represented every mechanical and electrical configuration and was tested with a simulation of the rigorous LEO charging environment into which the arrays will be deployed. The solar array was tested to 1.5 times its planned lifespan in space to ensure it can meet and exceed the expected lifetime of the satellite. The solar cells were put through 75,000 thermal cycles, each one representing the Iridium NEXT satellite's movements in and out of the sun's radiating heat as it orbits the Earth.
The Iridium NEXT satellite network will consist of 66 on orbit satellites and a number of on orbit spares. The constellation will offer continued high quality service for Iridium customers, as well as greater bandwidth and data speeds when fully operational in 2017.
"The successful completion of qualification testing for the solar panel design marks yet another important milestone on our journey to launching Iridium NEXT," said Iridium COO Scott Smith. "The innovation at the heart of the solar panels demonstrates how we're fundamentally rethinking the design of every aspect of our constellation with improved efficiency, performance and longevity in mind."
For more information on Iridium NEXT, please visit the Iridium infosite at http://www.iridium.com.