On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it has awarded semiconductor manufacturer Emcore (NASDAQ:EMKR) a $7.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract under the Advanced Multi-Junction Space Cell Producibility Program. 

The objective of the program is to develop small, high-efficiency solar cells for use on small, military-space satellites. Small, because it costs a lot of money to lift anything into space -- solar cells included. High-efficiency, because unlike solar panels on Earth, once a satellite has been lofted into orbit, it's pretty much up there for the duration and devilishly expensive to upgrade to keep up with advances in technology.

Hence, the military wants to make sure that the solar-power panels installed on its satellites are as close to cutting-edge efficient as possible, up to the moment they launch. Details on past government solicitations under this program specify that the military is looking for solar panels that are at least 33% efficient -- i.e., capable of converting 33% of the light-energy they receive into electricity.

Emcore is expected to complete work on this contract by April 13, 2018.