A Space Solar Power Satellite Could Help Fulfill Our Sci-Fi Dreams of Unlimited Energy
Harnessing the power of the sun is all the rage right now. End of 2022, American scientists announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion that could, decades from now, see a clean, renewable and essentially limitless source of energy powering the world.
In reality, we have been using the power of the sun for decades, in a more roundabout way. The solar panels are able to convert the star’s rays into energy here on Earth without releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the air. The only downside is that these panels are unable to provide a continued supply. Cloudy days prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the Earth. And, of course, the sun doesn’t shine at night.
So… why not put the solar panels in space? You’ll be tapping into the nearly limitless supply of energy from the sun 24/7. Science fiction legend Isaac Asimov wrote in “Reason” of an Earth sustained by such power. The idea would be to collect energy in a satellite and transmit this energy to the house. Scientists have been trying to figure out exactly how solar energy from space could power our world for from the Apollo programbut building and launching satellites was too expensive.
This month, thanks to a major philanthropic donation made in 2013, Caltech scientists are taking the first steps toward a solar-powered future in space. On Tuesday, they plan to launch the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD), a 110-pound prototype designed to test key technologies through three experiments.
The end goal is to deploy a constellation of space solar arrays that could be more than half a mile wide, forming a space power plant that then beams solar energy back to Earth. This process involves wireless energy transfer, converting radio waves into energy at ground level where receivers could convert the energy so it could be used in power grids. (Caltech has a great explainer on how you can guide this energy back to Earth.)
The SSPD performs an orbital ride attached to a Momentus Vigoride spacecraft and will deploy a 6-square-foot structure to evaluate the deployment mechanisms of space solar arrays in what is known as DOLCE, the Ultralight Composite Experiment. deployable into orbit. Another instrument, ALBA, will analyze 22 different types of photovoltaic cells to see how they handle the extreme environment of space, and a third, MAPLE, will test power transfer mechanisms with an array of microwave transmitters.
“We expect to order DOLCE deployment within days of Momentus SSPD access. We should know right away if DOLCE is working,” Sergio Pellegrino, civil engineer at Caltech and SSPD co-director, said in a statement. hurry. .
Deployment is, in some ways, the easy part. The demonstrator has been tested on Earth, but it remains to be seen how it holds up in space. The ALBA and MAPLE experiments will take much longer because scientists want to see how they perform over time and in different environments.
“No matter what happens, this prototype is a major breakthrough,” Ali Hajimiri, engineer and co-director of Caltech, said in a press release.
However, space solar power is not a silver bullet to the climate crisis. We already have solar energy technologies and ways to store energy when the sun is not shining here on Earth. There are also potential issues with building power plants in an already congested orbit and the overall cost of the project. However, space-based solar power could bring power to areas of the world that currently lack access to reliable power and provide a clean energy source – day and night – to power the planet.
If you want to follow the SSPD’s flight, the Falcon 9 is currently scheduled for launch at 6:56 a.m. PT on Tuesday, January 3. You can follow the launch live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.
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