The UK is getting serious about emitting solar power from space and thinks it could happen by 2035
More than 50 British technology organizations, including heavyweights such as aerospace manufacturer Airbus, Cambridge University and satellite maker SSTL, have joined Britain’s Space Energy Initiative, launched last year in a bid to explore options for developing space-based solar power plants.
The initiative believes that emitting electricity from space using the sun could help the UK meet its target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 more cost-effectively than many existing technologies.
The requirement to halt carbon emissions completely by mid-century is part of a global effort to halt climate change outlined at the United Nations (UN) COP 26 summit taking place in Glasgow in November 2021.
Speaking at the “Toward a Space Enabled Net-Zero Earth” conference held in London, initiative chairman Martin Soltau said on April 27 that all the technology needed to develop a space-based solar power plant is in place, but the challenge is in scope and size. such a project.
The initiative has a plan based on an extensive engineering study conducted by consultant Frazer-Nash and commissioned by the UK government last year.
“This study concludes that this is technically feasible and does not require a breakthrough in the laws of physics, new materials, or component technology,” Soltau said.
The initiative has set out a 12-year development plan, in which a power plant assembled by robots in orbit, radiates gigawatts of power from space to Earth as early as 2035.
The initiative explores a modular concept called CASSIOPeiA (Constant Aperture, Solid-State, Integrated, Orbital Phased Array), which was developed by the British engineering firm International Electric Company.
The modular nature of the orbiting power plant means it can be expanded after the demonstration phase. This would be something very large even a few miles across and require 300 launches of a rocket the size of the SpaceX Starship to be sent into orbit, Soltau said.
This power plant will orbit 22,000 miles above planet Earth or 36,000 kilometers with a constant view of the sun and Earth.
“The main function of satellites is to collect large amounts of solar energy through light mirrors and concentrate optics into photovoltaic cells, as we do on Earth,” said Soltau.
“They generate direct current electricity, which is then converted into microwaves via a solid state radio frequency power amplifier and transmitted in a coherent microwave beam to Earth.”
However, CASSIOPeiA will generate more electricity than a terrestrial solar power plant of the same size. Compared to solar panels placed on Earth in the UK, identical solar panels in space would harvest 13 times more energy.
In addition, space-based solar power plants will not experience intermittent problems, which plague most of the renewable power plants on Earth.
Because the sun doesn’t always shine on planet Earth and the wind doesn’t blow consistently. That means alternative power generators or battery storage must be available to prevent power outages in unfavorable weather.
Space, on the other hand, will provide consistent power output. The technology that will make the electrical system work based solely on renewable energy based on earth does not yet exist.
“Energy storage technology doesn’t yet exist at the right price and scale. We need other technologies, as we don’t have any plans to expand. Net-zero would be very difficult and space-based solar power could provide an attractive option,” said Soltau.
The UK can cover more than 40 per cent of its current electricity needs with renewable energy, but demand for clean energy will triple over the next three decades. Because according to Soltau, transportation and heating infrastructure reduces fossil fuels.
To meet such demand with offshore wind farms, the type of renewable technology currently making the largest contribution to the UK’s energy mix, would require a turbine band 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) wide around the entire UK mainland coast.
The ground-based infrastructure footprint required for orbiting solar power plants will be much smaller.
To receive energy from space, the system would need a giant Earth-based antenna, called a rectenna. Rectenna receives microwave radiation sent from space