The European Space Agency ( ESA ) has made a small demonstration of how satellites can transmit energy to Earth from space.
The European Space Agency ( ESA ) has proposed bringing energy from space to Earth via transmitting satellites .
This space-based solar energy initiative ( SBSP ) has made a small demonstration with SOLARIS , a project that seeks to confirm the viability of this idea.
ESA spent 2022 working on various aspects of SOLARIS , including publishing a couple of cost/benefit analyzes and hosting an industry day with presentations from the space agency and its commercial partners, including Airbus.
The agency considered the SBSP feasible as a complementary energy source to terrestrial renewables. And in September, Airbus demonstrated that it could use microwaves to transmit power over a distance of 36 meters, which it used to illuminate a miniature city.
“Now that we have successfully tested the key elements of a future small-scale space-based solar power system for the first time, we are ready to take it to the next level,” said Airbus Research Project Leader Yoann Thueux.
While those results are encouraging, SOLARIS cannot do more without more funding from the ESA Council of Ministers , which will soon host its annual meeting to hear requests for cash.
An idea that has been around for years.
The use of orbiting solar panels to send power to Earth via microwaves is not a new concept, neither in fiction nor in reality. NASA has explored the idea, as have Japan’s space agency, the US Navy, the UK’s Space Energy Initiative, universities and private companies.
So far, China appears to be leading the world in SBSP , having tested the capabilities of a ground-based receiver using balloons that float at altitudes of up to 300 meters and plans for tests at higher altitudes.
For those worried that these efforts could generate space lasers that start wildfires, not so. Microwaves, the ESA notes , operate at a non-ionizing frequency that does not cause cell damage. Beyond that, microwave models designed for SBSP use have a maximum power density of about 250 watts per square meter in the center of the beam, whereas a person standing near Earth’s equator at noon would receive four times that power.