As Europe reels under an energy crisis and looming conflict following ruptures in the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, scientists have an idea to solve the problem in the long-term scenario. Scientists have proposed building a satellite that could harvest solar energy and beam it down to the planet to be used.
The Space-Based Solar Power, which at the moment is theoretical, could help decarbonise the energy sector, which is largely dependent on fossil fuels and is a source of not just polluting the climate but larger geopolitical problems. The European Space Agency (ESA) said that recent studies indicate the satellite is workable.
Dubbed Solaris, the satellite could be launched into the geostationary orbit, where it would harvest sunlight on a permanent 24/7 basis and then convert it into low-power density microwaves to safely beam down to receiver stations on Earth.
BUT, THERE IS A CHALLENGE
ESA said that there is a major technical challenge that needs to be overcome, as the physics involved in the mission would need the satellite to be at least a few kilometers long, and so should the antennas that would collect the beams from space.
The challenge will be to build such high-efficiency photovoltaics, high-power electronics, and radio frequency beam systems on such a big scale. Meanwhile, the effects of low-power microwaves on human and animal health along with aircraft and satellites would also have to be studied.
“These are the kind of technical questions that SOLARIS will look into, to explore further the feasibility of the concept, so that Europe could make an informed decision in 2025 on whether to proceed with a Space-Based Solar Power program in the future. As an added plus, any breakthroughs achieved in these areas will be valuable in their own right, applicable to many other spaceflight endeavours,” Sanjay Vijendran, ESA’s lead for the SOLARIS proposal, said in a statement.
Space-Based Solar Power involves transforming solar power into electricity via photovoltaic cells in geostationary orbit around Earth. The power is then transmitted wirelessly in the form of microwaves. (Photo: ESA)
GLOBAL EFFORT UNDERWAY
While countries from across the world are exploring ways to harness solar energy, in a bid to switch to renewable forms of energy. Apart from Europe, the UK has set up a Space Energy Initiative to develop Space-Based Solar Power. Meanwhile, the European Commission is funding a project investigating large lightweight reflectors redirecting sunlight onto solar farms on the ground called SOLSPACE.
“Considering the climate and energy crises, and the rapid strides we’re making in space capabilities, now is the time to investigate if Space-Based Solar Power can be part of the solution it’s the responsible thing to do,” adds Dr. Vijendran.
The European Space Agency has proposed a research and development program to mature the concept and its critical technologies, raising hopes of this technology and satellites becoming a reality in the near future.
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