Press Release

Another Iridium NEXT Milestone Achieved With Successful Qualification of Its Unique Solar Panel Power System

By SpaceRef Editor
September 23, 2014
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Iridium Communications Inc. (Nasdaq:IRDM) today announced the completion of an extensive testing program for qualification of its new solar panel design for the Iridium NEXT constellation. The innovative array that powers the Iridium NEXT satellites, expected to begin launching in 2015, contains four solar panels and will span 9.4 meters when fully extended, developing more than 2 kilowatts of power over a demanding charging cycle in Iridium’s low earth orbit. The panel was developed by Spectrolab, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-efficiency multijunction space solar cells and panels, and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO), a premier supplier of lightweight solar panel substrates. These companies are part of the Iridium NEXT Mission Team, led by Iridium’s prime contractor and European satellite manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space.

The solar arrays are powered by new, larger triple-junction (XTJ) solar cells manufactured from six-inch wafers which yield 50 percent more solar cell surface area than cells used in Iridium’s current constellation and deliver higher performance, while reducing costs.

“The successful completion of qualification testing for the solar panel design marks yet another important milestone on our journey to launching Iridium NEXT,” stated Scott Smith, chief operating officer, Iridium Communications Inc. “The innovation at the heart of the solar panels demonstrates how we’re fundamentally rethinking the design of every aspect of our constellation with improved efficiency, performance and longevity in mind.”

Working closely with Spectrolab, the new design was put through a grueling life test and qualification program to ensure it works to specification using representative sections of the actual panels. The design verification test represented every mechanical and electrical configuration and was tested with a simulation of the rigorous low earth orbit charging environment into which the arrays will be deployed.

The solar array was tested to 1.5 times its planned lifespan in space to ensure it can meet and exceed the expected lifetime of the satellite. The solar cells were put through 75,000 thermal cycles, each one representing the Iridium NEXT satellite’s movements in and out of the sun’s radiating heat as it orbits the Earth.

The Iridium NEXT satellite network will consist of 66 in-orbit satellites and a number of in-orbit spares. The constellation is expected to begin launching in 2015 and will offer continued high quality service for Iridium customers as well as greater bandwidth and data speeds when fully operational in 2017.

For more information on Iridium NEXT, go to

About Iridium Communications Inc.

Iridium® is the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe. Iridium enables connections between people, organizations and assets to and from anywhere, in real time. Together with its ecosystem of partner companies, Iridium delivers an innovative and rich portfolio of reliable solutions for markets that require truly global communications. The company has a major development program underway for its next-generation network — Iridium NEXT. Iridium Communications Inc. is headquartered in McLean, Va., U.S.A., and its common stock trades on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the ticker symbol IRDM. For more information about Iridium products, services and partner solutions, visit

SpaceRef staff editor.