When it comes to operating in orbit around the Earth, many satellites rely on solar power. The satellites are launched with their solar panels stowed away, and then the panels are extended to gather power once in orbit. Solar arrays allow a spacecraft to gather power while in space, and are one of the most important components of space flight.
NASA has announced that its Space Technology Program has selected two companies for contract negotiation to develop advanced solar array systems for powering spacecraft. The two companies are Deployable Space Systems (DSS) and ATK Space Systems. According to NASA, high-power solar electric propulsion that generates power with advanced solar array systems is one of the key capabilities for extending human presence in space.
Both firms are intended to offer innovative approaches for the development of next-generation, large-scale solar arrays and mechanisms to deploy the solar arrays in space. NASA says that the next generation arrays will dramatically reduce the weight and stowed volume of the arrays compared to current systems. The systems are also expected to significantly improve functionality and efficiency compared to existing solar arrays with the new systems having the ability to produce hundreds of kilowatts of power.
NASA conducted a competitive selection process with two acquisition phases. Under phase 1, both companies will develop their solar array system technology over the next 18 months. Once phase 1 is completed successfully, both companies and other companies able to demonstrate a comparable degree of technical maturity will move to phase 2. Phase 2 will prove flight readiness with an in-space demonstration of a modular and extensible solar array system. The awards granted in phase 1 range between $5 million and $7 million.