WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab announced its solar power business will supply solar cells for three missile-warning satellites that Lockheed Martin is building for the U.S. Space Force.

The agreement with Lockheed Martin, announced July 27, is to supply solar cells and radiation-hardened assemblies for the geostationary Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) satellites, the first of which is scheduled to launch in 2025. 

The satellites will be operated by the U.S. Space Force and provide initial warning of a ballistic or tactical missile launch anywhere on the globe. 

Rocket Lab is a launch services company but also has a satellite manufacturing and components business that has grown through acquisitions. The company in January completed the $80 million acquisition of solar power system manufacturer SolAero Technologies, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

SolAero, founded in 1998, supplied solar power units used in NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Mars Insight Lander, Cygnus cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station and the OneWeb communications satellite constellation.

Lockheed Martin used SolAero systems in the previous generation of missile-warning satellites, the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS). The company produced six SBIRS satellites before the Space Force decided to transition to the Next-Gen OPIR. 

The deal to supply solar power units for Next-Gen OPIR satellites had been in the works with SolAero before the company was acquired by Rocket Lab and was recently finalized.

Rocket Lab will supply solar cells and Coverglass Interconnected Cell (CIC) assemblies, designed for severe space radiation environments and thermal stress conditions. The CICs will be integrated into the solar panels and arrays on the Next-Gen OPIR spacecraft.

“We are excited to continue our long-term partnership with Lockheed Martin by powering the Next Gen OPIR GEO satellites,” said Brad Clevenger, Rocket Lab’s vice president and general manager of space systems power solutions.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...