IMM-β: Rocket Lab's new space solar panels have a 33.3 percent conversion efficiency

And they're 40% lighter than current space solar panels.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a satellite with massive solar arrays.3000ad/iStock

Rocket Lab announced that it is taking its next-generation solar cell technology into the qualification phase.  

The technology, called IMM-β, was invented by SolAero, a space solar power company acquired by Rocket Lab in January 2022, Rocket Lab explains in a statement

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SolAero and RocketLab's next-gen solar cell

The new cell uses the company's patented Inverted MetaMorphic (IMM) solar cell technology, which has a conversion efficiency of roughly 33.3 percent in volume production.

What's more, it is more than 40 percent lighter than typical space-grade solar cells. Reduced weight, of course, is a currency in and of itself when it comes to space missions, which can cost millions more depending on the weight of the payload as it is launched into space.

In its press release, Rocket Lab says "the IMM-β solar cell is expected to be the highest efficiency space solar cell technology in high-volume production. The cell boasts an average 33.3% Beginning of Life (BOL) efficiency, up from 32% for the IMM-a that is currently in volume production." 

The statement adds that, "the IMM-β is also a radiation-hard cell with a power remaining factor of 87% after exposure to 1-MeV electrons at a fluence of 1E15 e/cm2 or equivalent of about 15 years life in GEO."

A "significant step in solar cell performance"

Rocket Lab also explains in its statement that the new technology is undergoing final space qualification testing, and that it is expected to be ready for commercial use later this year.

"We’re excited to bring to market this next significant step in solar cell performance," said Brad Clevenger, Vice President & General Manager, Space Systems Power Solutions. "In partnership with our colleagues at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), we're not only commercializing the world's highest efficiency and lightest weight space solar cell, we're doing so at the most competitive cost of any IMM technology to date."

Rocket Lab, which was founded in New Zealand in 1998, is known for some pretty wild designs, including its Hungry Hungry Hippo-inspired fairing and its system for catching first-stage rocket boosters out of the sky with helicopters. 

SolAero's technology, meanwhile, is present on NASA's Parker Solar Probe, as well as the James Webb Space Telescope. With the help of Rocket Lab, it will soon launch its next-generation of solar panel technology, powering future space missions that could shed new light on the oldest mysteries of the universe.

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