Studying How to Bring Solar Power Down to Earth

Solar power system. (Credit: Frazer-Nash Consultancy)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Solar energy generation keeps on becoming cheaper and more efficient, but some basic limitations will always apply: solar panels can only generate power during the daytime, and much of the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere as it shines downward. So ESA is working on the concept of collecting solar power up in orbit, where sunlight is up to 11 times more intense than across European territory, then beaming it down to the ground for use.

As part of that effort, a new project looks into designing solar-power satellites, which would become the largest structures ever built in space. Frazer-Nash Consultancy will study the modular construction of solar-power satellites, to efficiently dissembling them as they come to their end-of-life for reuse or recycling.

Supported through the Discovery element of ESA’s Basic Activities, this project was initiated through ESA’s Open Space Innovation Platform, seeking out promising new ideas for space. Find out more about this and other recent OSIP activities here.

Russian Space Systems Developing Space-based Solar Power Satellite

MOSCOW (Rosatom PR) — The Russian Space Systems holding (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) has developed a project for a promising solar space power plant (SCES). It is designed to supply power to hard-to-reach – island, mountainous and northern – regions of the Earth, as well as for scheduled and emergency recharging of spacecraft.

How does a space solar station differ from those familiar to everyone on the ground? In the Earth’s atmosphere, the sun’s rays are scattered and partially lose their energy efficiency. In outer space, the efficiency of using solar energy is ten times higher. RCS scientists proposed to convert it into a laser beam and transmit it to Earth with minimal energy loss.

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Caltech Announces Breakthrough $100 Million Gift to Fund Space-based Solar Power Project

A solar panel being developed by the Space Solar Power Project at Caltech. (Credit: Caltech)

PASADENA, August 3, 2021 (Caltech PR) — Today, Caltech is announcing that Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company and a lifetime member of the Caltech Board of Trustees, donated over $100 million to form the Space-based Solar Power Project (SSPP), which is developing technology capable of generating solar power in space and beaming it back to Earth.

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Experts: Reusable Launch Vehicles Will Make Space Solar Power Affordable

PowerSat's plans for beaming energy from space
PowerSat’s plans for beaming energy from space.

About 20 years ago, NASA conducted a study of space solar power. A friend of mine who was involved said they determined that about six miracles were necessary to make it feasible, the most important being affordable transportation to orbit.

Looks like that miracle is coming closer. Reusable launch vehicles now being developed — along with other advancements over the past two decades — could finally make beaming power down from orbiting satellites economically feasible.

Aviation Week has a lengthy report on a recent space solar panel conference held in Kobe, Japan, where they discussed the prospects for this clean form of power:

“We need a reusable launch system,” says Susumu Sasaki of Tokyo City University, a professor emeritus at JAXA who has studied the relationship between launch costs and the cost of power delivered from space.

Using a 2003 JAXA reference model with a 1-gigawatt station weighing 10,000 tons, Sasaki says power would cost a prohibitive $1.12/kwh at a launch cost to low Earth orbit (LEO) of $10,000 per kilogram. That is in the ballpark of what space launch costs today. Cut that to $1,000 a kilogram—in the ballpark for a reusable launch vehicle (RLV)—and electricity from space drops to 18 cents/kwh.

The SpaceX RLV work, which includes prototype landing legs on the current Falcon 9 taking cargo to the International Space Station (see photo on page 25) and using the rocket’s engines to control the first stage’s return to a splashdown in the Atlantic, is but one development in the fast-changing worldwide spaceflight endeavor that holds promise for space solar power.

Sasaki also cites the need for an orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) to move SPS hardware from LEO to the geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) where space power systems would operate, a development that meshes nicely with NASA’s efforts to develop a high-power solar electric propulsion system for deep-space exploration (AW&ST March 31, p. 26).

Read the full story here.

Wired Magazine also has a story about the original effort by NASA to develop space solar power.











SSI Space Manufacturing 14: Closed Environment Life Support System

International Space Station

Closed Environment Life Support Systems

Dr. William Jewel, Cornell University, and Dr. Lee Valentine, Space Studies Institute
“The Engineering Trade Space for a Robust Closed Ecological Life Support System: A Suggested Technology Road Map”

Dr. Peter Curreri, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and Michael Detweiller, Junction Solutions
“Habitat Size Optimization of the O’Neill-Glaser Economic Model for Space Solar Satellite Production”

Sherwin Gormly, Dynamic Corporation, NASA Ames Research Center, and Michael Flynn, NASA Ames Research Center
“Membrane Based Habitat Wall Architectures for Evolving Structures and Comprehensive Resource Recycle in ‘Homestead’ Stage Space Colony Development”

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