When man stepped on the moon some fifty years ago, little did we know that solar panels will be following suit. The SpaceX launch of the Falcon 9 got us thinking about space solar. While it may seem like a dream for us; behind the curtain, ground-breaking innovation and research has always been underway to make it a reality.
In 1958, the United States took the baton for space solar by sending out an array of panels with the Vanguard 1 spacecraft. Since then, nations leading the mandate on clean power have invested billions in joint research and development to harness solar power from space.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for one, has made headway with a one GW space solar farm in outer space that can begin transmitting power to earth as early as 2030.
On the other hand, the US National Space Society, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and China’s Military Commission have also joined hands to explore space solar as a viable means to power our world.
Let’s be honest. We know that the earth’s climate and power worries have reached a stressful level. Today, nations are adding megawatt renewable power capacities to their grids. Moreover, with Oxford Dictionary declaring ‘Climate Emergency’ its 2019 Word of the Year – perhaps, out-of-this-world power is the out-of-the-box answer to our problems?
Is Space Solar Out of Sight & Out of Mind?
What’s driving these masterminds to create a solar system within a solar system? Why do we need to go to space to use the sun’s rays?
It’s definitely not the cost (I’d say its daunting). Nor is it the logistics of delivering large structures in the earth’s orbits. What really motivates them is the prospect of generating a continuous supply of solar power.
How will it work, you ask? Well, with no obstacles like clouds or an atmosphere, satellite based solar panels capture more sunlight. Day or night, the sun shines in space 99% of the time – generating 40 times more power than on earth.
These rays are then transmitted to our planet using microwave technology. Lastly, collection centers on earth will absorb the beamed rays, and feed them into a grid.
Voila, you now have space based solar power (SBSP). Paul Jaffe, Electronics Engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory puts this concept in the following words,
“It offers an effectively inexhaustible source of clean energy – unmatched by any earth-bound source. Its unique ability to be delivered anywhere, day or night, infrastructure or not, presents a tantalizing opportunity.”