A Space Solar Power Satellite Could Help Fulfill Our Sci-Fi Dreams of Unlimited Energy

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Harnessing the power of the sun is hot right now. End of 2022, American scientists announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion that could be a clean, renewable and essentially unlimited source of energy to power the world decades from now.

In reality, we’ve been using the sun’s power in a more cumbersome way for decades. The solar panels are able to convert the rays of the star here on earth into energy without releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the air. The only drawback is that these panels are not capable of a continued delivery. Cloudy days prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the earth. And of course the sun doesn’t shine at night.

So… why not the solar panels in space? You benefit 24/7 from the almost unlimited energy supply of the sun. Science fiction legend Isaac Asimov wrote in “Reason” about an Earth sustained by such a force. The idea would be to collect energy in a satellite and transmit this energy to the house. Scientists have been trying to figure out how solar energy from space could power our world from the Apollo programbut building and launching satellites was too expensive.

Thanks to a large philanthropic donation in 2013, Caltech scientists are taking the first steps towards a solar-powered future in space this month. On Tuesday, they plan to launch the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD), a 110-pound prototype designed to test key technologies through three experiments.

The ultimate goal is to deploy a constellation of space solar panels that could be more than half a mile wide, forming a space power plant that then beams solar energy back to Earth. This process involves wireless energy transfer, converting radio waves into energy at ground level, where receivers can convert the energy so it can be used in power grids. (Caltech has a great explanation of how to channel this energy back to Earth.)

Conducting an orbital ride attached to a Momentus Vigoride spacecraft, the SSPD will deploy a 6-square-foot structure to evaluate space solar panel placement mechanisms in what is known as DOLCE, the Ultralight Composite Experiment. deployable in orbit around the earth. Another instrument, ALBA, will analyze 22 different types of photovoltaic cells to see how they cope with the extreme conditions in space, and a third, MAPLE, will test energy transfer mechanisms using an array of microwave transmitters.

“We expect to order DOLCE deployment within days of Momentus SSPD access. We should know right away if DOLCE works,” Sergio Pellegrino, civil engineer at Caltech and co-director of SSPD, said in a statement. hurry. .

Deployment is in some ways the simple part. The demonstrator has been tested on Earth, but how it holds up in space remains to be seen. The ALBA and MAPLE experiments will take much longer as scientists want to see how they perform over time and in different environments.

“Come what may, this prototype is a major breakthrough,” said Ali Hajimiri, engineer and co-director of Caltech in a press release.

However, solar energy from space is not a panacea for the climate crisis. We already have solar energy technologies and ways to store energy when the sun isn’t shining here on Earth. There are also potential issues with building power plants in an already congested orbit and the overall cost of the project. However, space-based solar power can provide power to parts of the world that currently lack access to reliable energy, providing a clean source of energy – day and night – to power the planet.

If you want to follow the SSPD’s flight, the launch of the Falcon 9 is currently scheduled for 6:56 a.m. PT on Tuesday, January 3. You can watch the launch live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.

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