Several players in British aerospace engineering are currently considering a major project. The goal would be to assemble a first orbital solar power plant by the mid-2030s. However, researchers assure that the technology to support such a structure already exists.
We know that a solar energy cycle project has been in the Chinese newspapers for some time. The idea would be to rely on the country’s next super-heavy launch vehicle to allow assembly of installations at an altitude of almost 36,000 kilometers. From there, panels would be responsible for collecting energy and then sending it to Earth using microwaves or lasers.
A project like this makes sense. Contrary to what is happening on Earth, no atmosphere actually absorbs the sun’s rays in space. The solar radiation is thus four times greater than the earth’s surface. A space power plant would not be subject to either no day / night exchangewhich would allow it to be effective 99% of the time. Thus, the amount of available energy should be eight to ten times greater than a photovoltaic system installed on the ground.
The UK is starting too
It seems that the UK also has a view on this type of technology. About fifty British organizations, including some “heavyweights” such as Airbus, the University of Cambridge or the satellite manufacturer SSTL, have actually joined UK Space Energy Initiative. This structure, formed last year, aims to explore opportunities to develop one space photovoltaic systems.
During the conference Towards a space-activated Net-Zero Earth, recently held in London, Martin Soltau, President of the UK Space Energy Initiative, would have assured that all the technologies needed for the development of a space solar power plant already exist. To confirm this, he is relying on an in-depth engineering study conducted by the consulting firm Frazer-Nash, commissioned by the UK government last year.
According to the organization’s officials, such a project could help the UK reach its goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 more cost-effectively than with any other existing technology. It is currently only an idea on paper, but researchers have already drawn up a plan over a dozen years to be carried out, ultimatelyat the launch of a demonstration power plant from 2035.
A huge project
Make no mistake, this is a gigantic project. This demonstration structure could actually already several kilometers wide and would require the least three hundred launches of a SpaceX Starship-sized rocket in orbit. The idea would be to move it into geostationary orbit (about 36,000 kilometers in altitude).
The initiative is currently being explored modular concept called CASSIOPeiA (for constant aperture, solid-state, integrated, orbital phase array). This is developed by the British engineering company International Electric Company. The modular nature of this orbital power plant means that it can be expanded after its demonstration phase.
” The main functions of the satellite are to collect solar energy through large lightweight mirrors and to focus optics on solar cells, just as we do on Earthsaid Martin Soltau. ” They will produce DC electricity, which will then be converted into microwaves through solid state radio frequency amplifiers and transmitted in a coherent microwave beam to Earth.”
To receive energy from space, the system had to have a giant terrestrial antenna on seven times thirteen kilometers. This structure, called “La rectenna”, will capture microwave radiation transmitted from space and convert it to direct current.