Today– A Powerful Measure of Confidence
Spectrolab, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company is the world’s leading merchant-supplier of the highest-efficiency space solar cells, CICs and panels available to prime satellite contractors and manufacturers around the world. In addition to space systems, Spectrolab’s high intensity airborne searchlight systems support more than 90% of the world’s market and the company’s solar simulators are the industry standard. Spectrolab serves customers around the world with its Nightsun® series searchlights. Its customers include law enforcement agencies around the world, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the British Ministry of Defense, which uses the Nightsun® product exclusively. Spectrolab’s product portfolio also includes terrestrial concentrator solar cells, solar simulators, and sensor products.
Spectrolab has built and delivered a world record 4 million multi-junction solar cells. Spectrolab’s legacy has produced over 4 megawatts of space grade solar cells launched to date, powering satellites and spacecraft internationally. In the near future, Spectrolab will have the first Supercell flight into LEO orbit.
Spectrolab’s solar cells and panels power satellites in Earth’s orbit, as well as the International Space Station. Note: The International Space Station’s solar panels are equipped with 275,000 silicon cells. The solar panels are also the largest power generating panels ever deployed in space with a total power output of 200kW. Additionally, Spectrolab provides products to the commercial satellite industry, the Department of Defense, NASA, domestic and international law enforcement agencies and global aerospace companies.
Spectrolab products have powered successful space missions, including solar panels which are in operation on Mars, as part of a reconnaissance satellite and two land-exploration rovers (Spirit and Opportunity). Note: NASA’s long-lived Opportunity Mars rover has finished its first marathon on another planet. The Opportunity Mars rover was only planned for a 90 day space mission, but is still going strong after 11 years, which is a significant milestone.
In 2016, Spectrolab will succeed in achieving a significant milestone by celebrating 60 years of space heritage. Additionally, by August 2016, Spectrolab will be the first to have solar cells operating on an interplanetary Jupiter mission.
The foundation of Spectrolab's success lies in our ability to rapidly transfer cutting-edge technology from a laboratory setting to a manufacturing process. Triple-junction concentrator solar cells designed and built by Spectrolab won the 2001 R&D 100 award for the most significant technologies by Research & Development Magazine’s panel of industry experts. These solar cells, when used in a concentrator module, dramatically lowered the cost of photovoltaic solar electricity generation. Spectrolab worked with many CPV systems manufacturers to optimize systems using these high efficiency cells, tailored for the terrestrial solar spectrum under concentrations of 300 to more than 1,000 suns. Spectrolab cells have set numerous world records for conversion efficiency, and in 2006, Spectrolab broke through yet another barrier, producing the first solar cell to exceed 40% efficiency. Our solar cells consistently deliver the highest production average efficiency to CPV customers.
1970s -1990s – Transitioning to High Volume Multijunction Production
As the demand for more powerful, more efficient, and more capable satellites increased in the 1970s and 1980s, Spectrolab developed increasingly more powerful solar cells, progressing from 12% conversion efficiency of early silicon solar cell to greater than 30% today using state-of-the-art multijunction solar cells. Once these GaAs-based solar cells were successfully demonstrated in space, and the path toward a successful multijunction technology was established, Spectrolab completely retooled its factory to produce multijunction cells. Today Spectrolab has the ability to produce nearly 500,000W (more than 30 high power satellites) per year with state-of-the-art multijunction solar cells and panels. In 1993, the company installed the world's most advanced MOVPE (metal organic vapor phase epitaxy) materials growth reactors as part of a high-capacity gallium arsenide solar cell production line, and has since largely replaced much this fleet, in 2009, with the latest generation technology.
1960s – Solar Simulators are Born
Early in the development of space solar cell technology, Spectrolab recognized an industry need to test solar cells and other devices in well-controlled conditions simulating those found in space. During the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, a Spectrolab product became the first solar panel to be placed on the moon. Additionally, Bell Helicopter became the first customer for Spectrolab's first Nightsun® searchlight. At 30-million candlepower, the Nightsun® is the world's most powerful airborne searchlight and is used by many military, maritime and search and rescue organizations, including the British Ministry of Defense, which uses the Nightsun® exclusively. In 1962, the company designed and began manufacturing both steady-state and pulsed solar simulators, which have since become an industry standard. Spectrolab then turned the light sources used to simulate the sun into an innovative searchlight product line.
During these years Spectrolab also instituted state-of-the-art process control tools such as Six Sigma and DoE and created Work Center Teams to focus engineering, manufacturing, and equipment expertise on each process step.
1950s – Firsts in Space PV
Spectrolab was established in 1956, when local entrepreneur Alfred Mann brought together a group of engineers to provide high-quality optical filters and mirrors for use in government contracts. Since its founding, Spectrolab has led the way in the development of high-efficiency solar cells for space missions.
Spectrolab established its credibility in the space industry with Pioneer 1, in 1958, carrying the company's first body-mounted solar panels; Explorer 6, the satellite that in 1959 provided the first photograph of Earth from space, supplied with Spectrolab's first solar arrays; the Syncom satellite, the first satellite placed in geosynchronous Earth orbit; and the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969, which included the installation of the first solar panel on the moon. Since those early days, Spectrolab has been the world’s leading supplier of space photovoltaic solar cells and panels.