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Cumulative Wh produced per sunlight/night cycle (remember these are in LEO and constantly passing in and out of the earth's shadow) per kilogram of solar panel is also important, when the satellites will be quite small.

You want the greatest possible power capability in the smallest and lightest package, and right now the way to do that is a triple or quadruple junction GaAs type PV cell with a concentrator lens in front of it. Efficiencies range from 32 to 40%, vs 22.5% efficiency for the very best monocrystalline Si PV cells.




This is all absolutely true - and would apply in any typical circumstance - but I'm not sure this is typical.

These aren't geostationary - they're low earth orbit. This means several things:

- cheap to launch - and to deorbit.

- lots of erosion compared to GEO - LEO is like being in a mild sandblaster while occasionally being shot at by rifles and howitzers.

Taking those two alone into account, you either end up building for durability or for disposability.

When you're dealing with a fleet of 4000 and your speciality/the thing you want to practice is heavy lift to LEO/MEO, you are absolutely talking about a disposable fleet where you expect daily failures and replacements. Having mass production facilities at your fingertips can't hurt.

Which is why they'd likely go for the cheaper tech that they have very low cost access to, even if it costs about the same after launch costs. Also, it would be more profitable for the collective enterprises than outsourcing such a component to a third party. Think about it - spend the money with a competitor, or at the gas station. I know which I'd do.

So - despite obvious truths re GaAs, my money is on them using their own Si cells.


I think you're vastly overestimating the significance of satellite material cost and underestimating how much larger assembly, testing, and operating costs are going to be. Four thousand satellites sounds like a lot and it is in the single unit volume world of aerospace, but it's not even close to enough to reach the kind of economy of scale everyone thinks about when they hear the phrase mass manufacturing. The cost of parts will be tiny compared to the cost of assembly and testing. To give you some perspective, you can get a 80mmx80mm 28% efficient GaAs solar cell for about $600 on Alibaba and the equivalent Si cell is about $6 with about 20% efficiency. At the volumes needed for a constellation of thousands, from a reputable vendor like Spectrolab, the price difference is in the 50-100x range so assuming a $1 Si cell the equivalent GaAs cell will cost $50.

Do you see how small the difference is in absolute terms? That means that only a few hours of labor per solar cell or 100g of launched payload mean the difference between a 50x and 1x difference. Two GaAs panels ($100) will requires tens of grams less support structure than the three Si panels producing the same power ($3) so already the extra launch cost (at $5k per kg, assuming free payload support structure) for the Si panels is eating away at their benefit. Each solar cell will need hours of inspection and testing by people paid $25+/hr so even if each extra Si cell and support structure costs nothing to launch, the final cost once fully assembled, installed, and tested will be in the range of $1k-10k per solar cell.

Especially at the scale of disposable satellites, GaAs is likely to be cheaper, more efficient, and free more volume and mass in the satellite design. 4000 satellites worth of Si solar cells would be the equivalent of a few dozen decent sized residential installs so it would be a drop in the bucket for SolarCity. I don't think keeping such small scale business in-house is much of an advantage, especially when there are many other suppliers with lots of experience in using solar cells in space.


>lots of erosion compared to GEO - LEO is like being in a mild sandblaster while occasionally being shot at by rifles and howitzers.

At 1100 km the debris population is relatively sparse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spacedebris_upd_2011.jpg


But in lower parts of LEO you still have meaningful amounts of atmosphere(!).




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