Athens Company Has Equipment Aboard Space Station

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When the company SpaceX launched an unmanned rocket last month to deliver equipment to the International Space Station, the payload included a product manufactured in Athens.

On board was a GLACIER refrigerator equipped with two cryocoolers made at Sunpower Inc.’s facility on East State Street.

For those who like to know the meaning of the acronyms they read, a GLACIER is a General Laboratory Active Cryogenic International Space Station Equipment Refrigerator.

Basically, it’s about the size of a college dormitory refrigerator and they come from the Birmingham Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering.

Each has two Sunpower cryocoolers, capable of reaching temperatures as low as minus 390 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Jimmy Wade, sales and marketing manager at Sunpower.

GLACIERS are used for experiments on the space station.

Aaron Reese, a mechanical engineer working on the GLACIER project at the Birmingham center, said the Sunpower cryocoolers were found to be the best designed and most reliable, and their size fit what was needed for the refrigerator.

“We needed every bit of cooling power we could get,” Reese said.

He noted that reliability is important, given the difficulty in making repairs on the space station.

Having Sunpower cryocoolers on the International Space Station isn’t new.

Wade said there have been GLACIERS up at the space station for at least a year.

According to Reese, there are currently six GLACIERS on the station.

Sunpower is located at Stateside Technology Park, the former McBee building, on East State Street.

Sunpower was formed in 1974 by William Beale, an Ohio University professor.

In January of 2013 it was announced that Sunpower had been purchased by AMETEK Inc., based in Berwyn, Pa.

Asked what has changed under the new ownership, Wade said AMETEK is a more product-oriented company.

“We’re introducing a new cryocooler in a couple months,” Wade said.

Also, in about a month, an out-of-the box version that does not require installation will be introduced for use in laboratories, he said.

Sunpower currently employs about 90 people, Wade said.