While children of different ages have looked to outer space for excitement and adventure, many adults look in the same direction for solutions to real-world solutions. Its vast size and unconfirmed possibilities further drive the notion that we as a society might be arrogant enough to think without a shadow of a doubt that the answers could never be found outside the planet’s reach. Instead, betting on what might be has catalyzed efforts in rooting solutions to better Earth from outer space.
As green technologies grow into viable energy production methods, many tech companies and Academia are expanding the playing field and including solar energy generation. Using satellites equipped with solar panels, high-intensity and uninterrupted solar radiation could be collected and transmitted the energy by utilizing massive mirrors. Those mirrors would direct solar rays onto smaller solar collectors before being beamed to Earth in a microwave or laser beam format.
Space-based solar power collection carries multiple advantages. Due to the lack of reflection and atmospheric absorption, an increased accumulation of energy can be gained. Space additionally allows for decreased periods of night, and better opportunities exist to position energy-collecting panels directly toward the sun.
Space-based solar power proposals date back to the 1970s, and interest has continued today. Significant interest rose in 2020, with the United States, Japan, China, Russia, India, and the UK actively pursuing solar power generation. The US Naval Research Laboratory tested its first solar power generation satellite in the same year.
Racing forward, a Japanese partnership of public and private interests publicized its plan to initial a trial program to develop a solar farm in space in early 2025. The project is supported by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry through Kyoto University research.
Resembling the past race to the moon, the UK plans to harness the same gains as Japan. A collaboration between UK universities and tech companies expects $5.3 million in government funding to develop its spaced-based solar power project. While Cambridge University works to create ultra-light solar panels capable of withstanding high radiation levels in space, London’s Queen Mary University is preparing a wireless system in which Earth would safely receive solar power beams.
“We’re taking a giant leap by backing the development of this exciting technology and putting the UK at the forefront of this rapidly emerging industry as it prepares for launch,” stated Grant Shapps, UK Energy Security Secretary. “By winning this new space race, we can transform the way we power our nation and provide cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy for generations to come.”
With cheap and clean levitating as pillars of the new energy production theme, the United States continues to invest in solar possibilities. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology announced the successful transmission of solar power to Earth, having launched MAPLE, an acronym for Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment.
“Through the experiments we have run so far, we received confirmation that MAPLE can transmit power successfully to receivers in space,” stated Professor Ali Hajimiri, project leader. “We have also been able to program the array to direct its energy toward Earth, which we detected here at Caltech. We had, of course, tested it on Earth, but now we know it can survive the trip to space and operate there.”
As the interest increases and countries compete to make solar power generation a realistic energy source, economic challenges associated with its development remain. Initial setup costs plague solar space project development. Solar panels capable of generating 1 GW of electricity demand enormous dimensions of construction and could carry price tags exceeding $7.2 billion. Decommissioning costs typically take the exact high costs when satellites must be removed from service to prevent the negative impact of the orbital space debris issue. Contact with debris could lead to space pollution, an issue that negates the clean energy pillar of the clean energy crusade.
Even with the challenges, countries still sprint forward to investigate realistic possibilities. When considering cost and environmental impact, whether on Earth or in space, if the opportunity surpasses the challenge, research and development teams will continue their Final Frontier expeditions to make solar power generation second nature in thought. While electric vehicles seemed far-fetched in the past, they populate and traverse today’s highways. Solar power generation from space carries the same probability, leaving behind its comic book dreams and developing into the next greatest renewable energy wonder.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. In addition to providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with twelve years of experience. Vaccaro also contributes to SHALE Oil and Gas Business Magazine, American Oil and Gas Investor, Oil and Gas Investor, Energies Magazine and Louisiana Sportsman Magazine. He has a BA in photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. Vaccaro can be reached at 985-966-0957 or email@example.com.