• Airbus Defence and Space installs 1 millionth solar cell on a spacecraft solar array
• Solar array is the 300th built by Airbus Defence and Space and to date no failure in orbit
• Airbus Defence and Space and its supplier AZUR Space sign long-term agreement
Ottobrunn, February 3, 2012 – For nearly 50 years, Airbus Defence and Space’s centre of competence for solar arrays in Ottobrunn has been equipping spacecraft of every class with these highly efficient ‘power plants’. Acknowledged as the European leader in this market, Airbus Defence and Space today installed the one millionth solar cell from its supplier AZUR Space, a medium-sized supplier of solar cells based in Heilbronn, Germany, and delivered its 300th solar array in the presence of the Bavarian State Minister of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology, Dr. Martin Zeil. Airbus Defence and Space has also signed a long-term cooperation agreement with AZUR Space. The 100-strong Airbus Defence and Space team is currently busy preparing the solar arrays for the European BepiColombo Mercury probe. Airbus Defence and Space is also developing the world’s most modern solar array for the new European ALPHABUS telecommunications satellite
“Weather observation, environmental monitoring, disaster management, navigation, telecommunications from space and numerous scientific missions – all these applications would be impossible without Airbus Defence and Space’s particularly reliable solar arrays,” said Evert Dudok, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Today’s modern gallium arsenide solar cells, that we install in space, have now reached an efficiency of up to 28 percent, making them more than twice as efficient as the solar cells currently used for roof installations. Space then can contribute to improving conditions on Earth, and, as the number one European company for space technologies, were are acting as an innovation driver for terrestrial applications.”
All satellites require electrical power to operate in space – and they get that power from the Sun. The environmental conditions in space are very harsh, with extreme temperatures ranging from -180ºC to +130ºC coupled with solar radiation, so the solar cells required for these applications need to be extremely robust. The solar arrays developed and manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space have an output ranging from a few hundred watts up to 26 kilowatts. Featuring some 20,000 solar cells and a wingspan of up to 19 meters (for each panel either side of the spacecraft), a solar array weighs no more than 145 kilograms and is folded during launch to a thickness of 30 centimetres. Once the satellite is in space, two of these solar wings are deployed to the left and right of the satellite to meet its electrical power needs. To date, not a single Airbus Defence and Space solar array has failed while in operation.
The Airbus Defence and Space solar panel production facility in Ottobrunn features three parallel integration lines, enabling up to nine large arrays to be in production simultaneously. A 4,200 square meter cleanroom provides plenty of space for production, integration and testing benefiting from the fact that all the development and manufacturing processes are carried out in one single place.
To be able to withstand the challenging conditions they will experience in space, the solar panels are coated with a protective layer made out of glass, bonded to a carbon-fibre substrate and then wired. The electrical configuration must be designed to ensure that the satellite receives the necessary power at all times. Airbus Defence and Space guarantees that the arrays will still be capable of delivering the final service agreed with the customer after 15 years in service – without the option of any repairs being carried out.
In addition, Airbus Defence and Space has developed a patented method of detecting potential breakages and other defects in its solar cells, further increasing this way the quality of its arrays. Though normally programmed to receive light and emit power, solar cells can also be operated in reverse – in other words consuming power and emitting light in a process known as electroluminescence. A special camera can then be used to examine the illuminated solar cells to detect breakages and other defects.
Currently, Airbus Defence and Space in Ottobrunn is also developing solar arrays for the European Space Agency’s BepiColombo interplanetary probe, which is due to embark on its journey to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, in 2014. The biggest challenge here is preparing the arrays to withstand temperature fluctuations ranging between -130 and +270 degrees Celsius and to protect them from the sun’s intense UV radiation. To date, there is no direct experience from comparable projects having to endure these extreme conditions.
About Airbus Defence and Space
Airbus Defence and Space is the number one company in Europe and the third in the world for space technologies. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services.
In 2010, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €5 billion and more than 15,000 employees worldwide, mainly in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment, and Airbus Defence and Space for comprehensive end-to-end solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security satellite communications equipment, bespoke geo-information and navigation services worldwide.
AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2010, the Group – comprising Airbus, Airbus Defence and Space, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 45.8 billion and employed a workforce of nearly 122,000.
Jeremy Close (Airbus Defence and Space UK) Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 3872
Gregory Gavroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR) Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32
Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space GER) Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971
Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP) Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41