$100m for space grade solar cell production

$100m for space grade solar cell production

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Rocket Lab in the US has signed a deal for $46m of national and local government funding to boost production of space grade solar cells.

The non-binding preliminary memorandum of terms (PMT) with the Department of Commerce that would see Rocket Labs receive up to $23.9m in direct funding under the CHIPS and Science Act. The proposed investment would help fund a $100m expansion and modernization of the company’s facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the solar cells.

Rocket Lab acquired SolAero Technologies Inc in 2022, making Rocket Lab one of only two companies domestically, and three companies outside of Russia and China, that specializes in the production of highly efficient and radiation resistant compound semiconductors for space-grade solar cells.

The solar cells produced at the site already power the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s Artemis lunar explorations, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, and the Mars Insight Lander. Rocket Lab’s technology also serves a booming commercial satellite market, such as powering the OneWeb broadband internet satellite constellation.

The proposed investment under the US CHIPS Act would help create a more robust and resilient supply of solar cells and increase production by 50% within the next three years.

The State of New Mexico has also committed to providing financial assistance and incentives with a total value of $25.5m for the expansion.

“Semiconductors are central to modern life, to our economy, and to America’s future. We are proud to be strengthening that future with the support of the CHIPS Office by expanding our production facilities to meet growing demand for the semiconductors that power the nation’s most critical science, defense and commercial space missions,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Sir Peter Beck. “For more than two decades the SolAero team, now part of Rocket Lab, has played a crucial role in the domestic production of semiconductors. This program is a continuation of our commitment to ensuring resilient U.S. supply chains and creating highly productive local jobs.”

Rocket Lab has indicated that it plans to claim the Department of the Treasury’s Investment Tax Credit, which is expected to be up to 25% of qualified capital expenditures.

The PMT outlines key terms for a potential CHIPS incentives award, including the amount and form of the award but are subject to due diligence and are conditional on the achievement of certain milestones.

“Solar cells are important for keeping our communication and space technology powered and operational, and this proposed award would help our military, NASA, and our commercial space industry have access to the specialty semiconductors they need to keep our country safe and continue to lead in scientific discoveries and space commerce,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. 

As the United States and other nations expand their technological presence in space, particularly with Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that provide for more resiliency in space, there is a need for more space-grade solar cells to enable the industry’s transition. Space-based defence systems are also important components for economic and national security and are reliant on solar power says Raimondo.

“Solar cells are increasingly important to maintaining United States’ leadership in space,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Laurie E. Locascio. “Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to revitalizing all areas of America’s semiconductor industry alongside the research and development that makes these advances possible.”

As part of the deal, Rocket Lab will partner with New Space New Mexico (NSNM) and will contribute $2 million over the next three years, allow access to their equipment, services, and personnel, and sponsor internship positions for the NewSpace Ignitor and Pathways to the Stars programmes.

NewSpace Ignitor will establish co-innovation hubs in Albuquerque, Navajo Nation, and rural southern New Mexico to provide opportunities and promote high-tech manufacturing in underserved communities.

The company has indicated that it plans to claim the Department of the Treasury’s Investment Tax Credit, which is expected to be up to 25% of qualified capital expenditures.;


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