Renewables

Race is on to make satellites that generate, transmit solar power

Race satellites generate transmit solar power

Photo: NASA

Published

November 25, 2020

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Published:

November 25, 2020

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The European Space Agency is evaluating ideas for the feasibility of space-based solar power, the United Kingdom funded research into the technology, which includes solutions for beaming electricity to long distances, while the United States already has a prototype in orbit.

After decades and centuries of scientific concepts and works by artists, the idea of space-based photovoltaics is starting to take shape. The technology could be used to beam electricity from satellites equipped with solar panels to Earth or even the Moon and Mars by using lasers or microwave systems.

The European Space Agency – ESA said that for the next month it would be assessing the ideas it picked after launching a public call in July. The proposed technologies and concepts should advance the development of space-based solar power and increase feasibility.

Solar satellites enjoy nonstop unfiltered illumination

Satellites are exposed to stronger or even permanent sunlight without the atmosphere in between, which boosts the utilization rate. Some of the challenges to be overcome are very large structures for design, manufacturing and sending into space, how to convert and send electricity and control the system.

ESA is open for suggestions for in-space construction. It said it would back research, early development or system studies. Beneficiaries can get up to EUR 175,000, in the category of early technology development.

Electromagnetic waves may be used to send power

Just this month, the United Kingdom commissioned research into space-based solar power solutions. It said giant satellites would convert energy from photovoltaic panels into high-frequency radio waves. The authorities noted costs have gone down with commercial space launches emerging.

Solar satellites may contribute to reaching climate targets

“Solar space stations may sound like science fiction, but they could be a game-changing new source of energy for the UK and the rest of the world. This pioneering government-backed study will help shine a light on the possibilities for a space-based solar power system which, if successful, could play an important role in reducing our emissions and meeting the UK’s ambitious climate change targets,” said Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway.

First module is already in space

In May, the United States Naval Research Laboratory launched the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module (PRAM) as part of a comprehensive investigation into prospective terrestrial use of solar energy captured in space. The 30-centimeter square tile module, first of its kind, is testing solar power production and its transformation into a radio frequency microwave.

There are numerous other attempts and initiatives, for instance in Japan and China.

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