Regher Solar is ready to meet the new space industry’s demand for cheaper, better solar panels

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The math is pretty basic. How many satellites are going to go up in the next decade? How many solar panels would they need? And how many are being built that are worth the bill? The answer turns out: a lot, a hell Too many and not nearly enough. This is where Rager Solar aims to make its mark, reducing the cost of space-quality solar panels by up to 90%, while making an order of magnitude more of them.

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It’s not exactly a trivial goal, but luckily science and the market seem to be on its side, which has brought some relief to the company. The question is about finding the right balance between cost and performance while being relatively easy to manufacture. Of course, if there was an easier answer There, someone must be doing this already.

Solar cells for use on the surface of the planet are very different from those used in space. Because there are some size and mass limits down here; You can make cells bigger, heavier and less efficient – and much cheaper. Space solar cells, on the other hand, have to be highly efficient, extremely lightweight and resistant to various hazards of space, such as radiation and temperature fluctuations: a top-tier product that costs five-10 times as much and uses smaller Has-scale processes and costly materials.

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Rager Solar has made a space-grade solar cell that, while it doesn’t reach those dedicated space solar levels, isn’t far off – yet costs a fraction as much and can be built on a large scale with existing processes . If you’re building a $200 million geostationary satellite, you don’t mind paying for the best panel, as it’s only a small part of the total cost. But if you want to deploy 10,000 smaller satellites with a shorter lifespan, the panels start to make materials pretty much your bill, and the 20% performance hit doesn’t sound so bad.

Reger CEO and co-founder Stanislau Herasimenka explained that there is no magic bullet in their product, but rather lots of incremental improvements and an understanding of what is really important to the new space economy.

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“The technology has evolved into a high-cost, low-volume space,” he explained. “Space panels, they start with a very expensive substrate, usually germanium or gallium arsenic, and very expensive processing. Then space-grade interconnects, an expensive glass and carbon fiber or aluminum substrate, manual assembly … top performance and There’s less downside, but it’s not fully scalable. If they wanted 10x more of these, they couldn’t have done it.”

Yet we are clearly on the way to doubling, tripling and eventually doubling the number of satellites being launched. They can’t just slap terrestrial cells in there—they’ll fail quickly—and tried-and-true makers of fancy III-V cells won’t have nearly enough stock. So Rager used the best of both worlds to make its cells location-ready, but cheap. And can be done quickly.

A Reger flexible silicon solar cell made with a 20-μm silicon substrate. image credit: Reger Solar

“Right now we are running an R&D pilot line where we can make panels in small quantities – 50 kW, which is about 5% of the space industry,” he said. “But because we designed with silicon, and the package to be compatible with automated production, we need to be able to transition from pilot to 10 megawatts, which is 10 times more than the space industry needs in a year.”

Although the product is new, it doesn’t use any exotic or unprecedented technology, so it may actually be possible to build a ramp like this. Herasimenka described some of the changes made to achieve space-like performance at terrestrial-like prices.

First they took down the thickness of the silicon substrate, meaning it is paradoxically more resistant to radiation, as it would absorb less. He also changed the impurities and doping in it so that it cures at a lower temperature, to correct the damage caused by heating only to 80 °C. Coating, interconnection and bonding are space-stable. There’s also less dedicated space for what you might call a bezel, so sun-sensitive cells make up more of the surface. The plan is also to make them flexible (as shown in the images here), to better fit unusual shapes, and to increase physical rigidity.

A lab technician shows the flexibility of the Reger "Solar Blanket."

A lab technician shows the flexibility of the Reger “Solar Blanket.” image credit: Reger Solar

Knowing how far to go depends on the moving target which is the cost and planned life of a given constellation-bound satellite. It’s counterproductive, but it could be a threat to a constellation company like Starlink if their satellites perform very well. With thousands of satellites, unit economics comes into play—and you don’t want them to be better or more expensive than that if the announced plan is to replace them five years from launch. If they’re still going at 100%, you can probably save a lot of money somewhere down the line.

“Constellation designers design for a particular period in a particular orbit,” Herasimenka said. “Nobody wants to live two weeks, and nobody wants 15 years; mostly they go to low Earth orbit and stay there only five-seven years. So we’ve designed for this exact requirement. If his After they go bad, we don’t care because our customer doesn’t care.”

Raegher earned a spot in the 2019 batch of Techstars by foraying into this emerging market, after which he started talking to manufacturers and roughing up deals. He also took away the NASA SBIR Phase I Award and the NSF Phase II award, totaling $1.1 million. Herasimenka said that with prototypes and some validated funding, they collected $33 million in LOI over the summer and $50 million more are being earmarked.

As promising as that is, the company needs to move fast or risk letting others go and eat their lunch. “Everything can change in just a few years, and by the time an industry realizes it, the market opportunity is gone,” he said. Clearly Reger Solar intends to seize that opportunity, but now they’re looking for significant investment to get their pilot first, then later to speed up to full-scale manufacturing lines. They are not ready to announce specifics, but Herasimenka said they have a $5 million institutional equity seed round that should close before the end of the year, plus $750,000 from individuals.

With interest from established aerospace companies and stamps of approval (via SBIR) from both NASA and the NSF, Rager is well positioned to up its game. Is the hard part designing the new panel or actually making it? They are about to find out.

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