Solestial Raises $10M Seed

A Solestial thin solar panel piece
Image: Solestial

Solestial, a startup spun out of Arizona State University aiming to be the go-to solar energy company for space, announced the close of a $10M seed round. The round was led by Airbus Ventures with participation from AEI HorizonX, GPVC, Stellar Ventures, and Industrious Ventures.

The Tempe, AZ-based startup takes a different tack on manufacturing solar panels for space…by building them more like terrestrial manufacturers. 

“It’s important to remember that [the] ‘industry standard’—conventional “III-V” space solar technology—was designed for a different time, when launch was so expensive that every project was a billion dollars and payload cost was almost no object,” Solestial CEO Stanislau Herasimenka told Payload via email. 

“Solestial starts with silicon, like terrestrial manufacturers, so we can leverage the learning curve progress that has been made in that industry, but we upgrade the materials to survive the environmental rigors of space.”

Wiping the damage away: The radiation environment of space would wreak havoc on solar panels that aren’t designed to withstand it. The type of silicon solar cells used on Earth would be quickly destroyed in space. Solestial uses a modified silicon material pressed into a very thin cell—only 20 microns thick, as opposed to the ~160 micron cells used commercially on Earth. 

“The combination of these steps induce a self-curing behavior where radiation damage is annealed away when the cell is heated and exposed to sunlight,” Herasimenka said.

Building the business: Herasimenka has three main priorities for the company now that it’s raised its first round of funding:

  1. Completing technical validation of its technology
  2. Planning the transition to mass manufacturing
  3. Converting over $100M in letters of intent to confirmed orders

Baked into these big-picture goals are loads of hiring and scaling. Solestial is looking to more than double its <20-person team over the next year, and it’s currently hiring for about a dozen engineering positions.