SAN FRANCISCO — Solestial, a Tempe, Arizona company focused on solar energy for space applications, closed a $10 million funding round led by Airbus Ventures. AEI HorizonX, GPVC, Stellar Ventures, Industrious Ventures and other investors participated in the round.
“With this seed round, we will fully validate the technology and then prepare ourselves to transition to mass production of solar cells and panels,” Stanislau Herasimenka, Solestial co-founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “We will do a lot of ground testing to predict how our panels will perform. And we will have multiple flights over the next year.”
Solestial panels have not flown yet. The company has delivered three sets of panels to customers. Herasimenka declined to name the customers, but said they included prime contractors and well-funded startups.
“I’m very happy to see a strong demand from different segments of the satellite manufacturing market,” Herasimenko said. “It seems that solar is a pain not only for the LEO [low-Earth orbit] megaconstellations that we are primarily targeting because they need a lot. Everyone would benefit from more affordable solar panels in space.”
Solestial intends to offer solar panels that are much less expensive than current panels, “mass producible” and space stable, Herasimenka said. “In space, it can last for 10 years and preserve some reasonable performance.”
In contrast to existing space solar panels, which Herasimenko compares to Lamborghinis, Solestial aims to bring the space industry something less costly and easier to manufacture like a Ford F-150 pickup truck. “It can serve as the workhorse for this industry that’s expanding and needs a lot of solar power,” Herasimenko said.
Solestial, formerly known as Regher Solar, spun out of Arizona State University, where Herasimenka earned a PhD in electrical and electronics engineering, conducted post-doctoral research and served as an assistant research professor.
The company was developing thin silicon solar cells for terrestrial markets. Noting the rapid expansion of the space sector in recent years, the company began testing the impact of radiation on its technology. Like other solar cells, Solestial solar cells can be damaged by radiation, but the company designed the cells to anneal, or cure the defects, at normal operating temperatures.
In addition to private investment, Solestial has won Small Business Innovation Research awards from NASA, the National Science Foundation and other government agencies with a combined value of more than $2.5 million.
“We are at a new inflection point for the aerospace and the energy industries,” Mat Costes, Airbus Ventures partner, said in a statement. “We’re excited to welcome the team at Solestial into our vibrant community of entrepreneurs working to advance breakthrough technologies to help solve critical, near-term planetary challenges.”