Several players in British aerospace engineering are currently considering a major project. The goal is to assemble a first orbital solar power plant by mid-2030. However, researchers are confident that the technology to support such a structure already exists.
We know that an orbital solar power plant project has long been in China’s papers. The idea is to rely on the country’s next super-heavy launcher to allow assembly of installations at altitudes of nearly 36,000 kilometers. From there, the panels will be responsible for collecting energy, 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 absorbing sunlight into the galaxy. Solar radiation is thus four times greater than the earth’s surface. A space power plant is also not subject to no day/night shiftthat will allow it to be effective 99% of the time. The amount of available energy should be eight to ten times greater than that of a solar power station installed on the ground.
The United Kingdom is also starting
Apparently the United Kingdom also has sights 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. Formed last year, this structure aims to explore options for building a space solar power plant.
During the conference Towards a Space Enabled Net-Zero Earth, which was recently held in London, Martin Soltau, president of the UK Space Energy Initiative, will make sure all the technologies needed for building a space solar power plant are in place. To prove it, he relies on an in-depth engineering study conducted by consultancy firm Frazer-Nash, commissioned by the British government last year.
According to organization officials, such a project could help the United Kingdom achieve its goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 more economically than all other existing technologies. It’s just an idea on paper so far, but researchers have already made a plan over a dozen years to implement, eventuallyat the launch of a demonstration power plant from 2035.
A big project
Make no mistake, this is a massive project. This demonstration structure is already possible a few kilometers wide and will require the least three hundred launches of a SpaceX Starship-sized rocket into orbit. The idea is to move it into geostationary orbit (about 36,000 kilometers in altitude).
The initiative is currently exploring a modular concept called CASSIOPeiA (for Constant Aperture, Solid-State, Integrated, Orbital Phased Array). It was developed by the British engineering firm International Electric Company. The modular nature of this orbital power plant means that it can be expanded after its demonstration stage.
” The main functions of the satellite are to collect solar energy through large lightweight mirrors and to focus optics on photovoltaic cells, as we do on Earth.“said Martin Soltau.” They will emit DC electricity that will then be converted into microwaves by a solid state radio frequency power amplifier and sent to an interconnected microwave beam to Earth.”
To receive energy from space, the system will need a giant terrestrial antenna seven of thirteen kilometers. This structure, dubbed “La rectenna”, will take microwave radiation transmitted from space and convert it into direct current electricity.