The UK government has set into motion new research to develop space-based solar power (SBSP) systems that will use massive satellites to collect solar power, change it to high-frequency radio waves and send it back to a receiving station on earth. The ground-based receivers will then be connected to the power grid and supply the power.
Isaac Asimov first put forth the idea in the 1940s. As wireless power, several countries are now exploring the science-fiction writer’s thoughts, and solar panel technologies continue to advance rapidly. Also, commercial launches’ cost to space has dropped; hence such projects are both operationally and economically feasible. This year, the UK plans to research whether the technology could offer a new clean, and sustainable energy source.
According to Science Minister Amanda Solloway, space solar power could be a game-changing power source for the country and the world. The research will help determine the project’s feasibility. If the SBSP proves successful, she says, the UK could cut its emissions and achieve its climate change goals.
The project is led by Frazer-Nash Consultancy and will seek to determine such a system’s engineering and economic considerations. The company’s criteria will look into whether it could provide energy at affordable rates for consumers and the technology required to build the system. The biggest challenge so far is how to assemble the satellites in space, which has never been done to that degree yet.
According to the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, Dr. Graham Turnock, an SBSP could be a potential power source all year round no matter the season and time of day, since the sun is always in space. He added that the country plans to send small satellites into orbit in the future, and this research will help shine a light as to whether a space-based solar power station will be in their plans for the future.
In the past, the cost of flying to space with rocket loads required for such a project would be too high to be feasible. However, as more private companies venture into the space business, the cost of launching has dropped drastically within the past ten years. Britain hit an important milestone in 2019, producing more power from green sources than from carbon-emitting fuels like coal and natural gas. Therefore, it is expected that more money will be pumped into new renewable technologies in the future.