The primary source of power generation for spacecraft is solar power, and the solar panels used in space are many times larger than the satellite or payload itself.
The wingspan of geostationary communication satellites is about 150 feet; however, the launch vehicle that carries the satellite to orbit has an internal diameter less than 15 feet. This causes challenges for launching solar arrays into space since they must be stowed in the narrow confines of launch vehicle fairings and then deployed on-orbit. Coupled to the tight launch confines is the exorbitant launch expense. Currently, the approximate cost to launch satellites is $10,000 per pound. These two factors result in the limited total power available to spacecraft payloads.
Since all spacecraft require power to operate, reducing the weight and stowed volume of the solar array greatly reduces the overall system cost and increases the total power for the mission. To tackle these challenges, the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV)--in partnership with NASA; Deployable Space Systems, Inc.; LoadPath, LLC; and Hall Composites--developed the roll-out solar array (ROSA), which uses novel, passively deployed, composite structural booms and a flexible solar cell blanket. ROSA's innovative architecture beats the current state-of-practice rigid solar arrays in all areas of performance, including 6x improvement in stowed power density, 3x higher specific power, and 4x higher stiffness, all while lowering the array cost by 25%. The outstanding improvement in performance enables ROSA to shatter spacecraft on-orbit power limits, which leads to substantially higher communication bandwidth for commercial applications and opens up new classes of Department of Defense missions. ROSA also offers substantial cost savings for conventional missions, including an estimated $1.4 billion in savings for U.S. Air Force communications and navigation programs.
The wingspan of geostationary communication satellites is about 150 feet; however, the launch vehicle that carries the satellite to orbit has an internal diameter less than 15 feet.
The technology transfer partnership was initiated using a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract with Deployable Space Systems, LLC, to improve the stowed volume and deployed on-orbit performance of solar arrays. LoadPath, LLC, a small business cooperative research and development partner with AFRL/RV, developed the boom fabrication methodology and provided the test data that was critical to demonstrating the capabilities of ROSA. NASA provided modeling support and transition to space exploration missions.
The multi-partner effort formed by the partnership led directly to the testing, demonstration, and commercialization of ROSA, with widespread adoption of the technology leading to broad economic impacts and transitioning to Space Systems Loral to replace its existing arrays for 37 geostationary orbit/low Earth orbit (GEO/LEO) communications satellites in production.