Will Space-Based Solar Power Finally See the Light of Day?
SBSP could, according to energy experts, provide constant, pollution-free powerâ€”unlike intermittent wind and cloud coverâ€“sensitive ground-based solar, and without the emissions of fossil fuels or radioactive waste from nuclear power. “[SBSP] is a disruptive technology [in that] it could change the whole energy equation,” says Frederick Best, director of the Center for Space Power (CSP) at Texas A&M University in College Station, Tex.
The premise (and promise) of SBSP has been considered scientifically feasible since the late 1960s. The basic concept of beaming microwave frequencies to Earth from orbit has already been proved: A fleet of solar-powered communication satellites routinely beam various electromagnetic frequencies to ground receivers, linking cell phone calls or relaying TV signals to rooftop dishes, for example. Converting solar energy beamed from space into electricity in a power grid, however, has not yet been demonstrated.
Space Energy, a Switzerland-based SBSP start-up, aims to change that by deploying a prototype orbiter in the next several years, possibly before Solaren’s pilot plant reaches orbit. “You can argue the physics [of SBSP] all day, but you’ll only know with a prototype,” says Peter Sage, a co-founder of Space Energy, started in 2008.
Last year, U.S. and Japanese researchers crossed an important SBSP threshold when they wirelessly transmitted microwave energy between two Hawaiian islands about 90 miles (145 kilometers) apart, representing the distance through Earth’s atmosphere that a transmission from orbit would have to penetrate, says Frank Little, associate director of the CSP.
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