Atomos is developing Quark, a reusable space tug designed to tow tens of customers to various orbital destinations over the tug’s five-year lifetime. Credit: Atomos

LOGAN, Utah – Solar energy startup Solestial announced plans Aug. 2 to supply solar arrays for space tugs developed by Denver startup Atomos Space.

Atomos plans to test a small Solestial photovoltaic panel on an orbital transfer vehicle demonstration set to launch on a SpaceX Transporter rideshare flight in early 2024. Solestial also will supply large solar blankets for two Atomos’ solar-electric OTVs slated to begin flying in late 2024 or early 2025.

Atomos selected Solestial’s technology because of its performance and price.

Kilowatts per Kilogram

In terms of “kilowatts of output per kilogram of array, Solestial’s solution was really best in class,” Vanessa Clark, Atomos co-founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “We can get 20 kilowatts of solar arrays for less than 100 kilograms.”

Atomos OTVs need large solar arrays to move commercial and government satellites “relatively quickly” from low-Earth to geostationary orbit and from geostationary transfer orbit to geostationary orbit, Clark said.

“Those missions aren’t possible with the solar arrays that are available today or with chemical propulsion,” Clark said. “For our business, Solestials technology is certainly enabling and we’re excited about what it will enable for our customers too.”

Solestial intends to supply solar panels for spacecraft and space-based infrastructure.

Technology Validation

For Solestial, the Atomos contract is important validation from a customer with a demanding mission.

Atomos “needs a gigantic solar array and also needs it to be really lightweight,” said Stan Herasimenka, Solestial co-founder and CEO. “We’re still validating the technology. Being an alpha customer takes a lot of trust in the team and technology.”

Solestial is stress testing its technology on the ground. In addition, small solar panels have been shipped to multiple Solestial customers for on-orbit demonstrations.

Earlier this year, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission validated Solestial’s claim that its silicon solar cells can effectively anneal (or cure) radiation damage under sunlight at 90 degrees Celsius.

Both Atomos and Solestial participated in the 2019 Techstars accelerator, where the founders met. Solestial raised $10 million and Atomos raised $5 million in 2022.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...