More than 50 British technology organisations, including aerospace maker Airbus, University of Cambridge and satellite maker SSTL, have joined the UK’s Space Energy Initiative, which was launched to explore options for developing a power plant in space by 2035.
to me VoidThe project is betting that transmitting electricity from space using the sun can help the UK achieve its goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 more cost-effectively than many current technologies.
Speaking at the Net-Zero Earth conference in London, Martin Soltau, head of the initiative, said that all the technologies needed to develop a space-based solar power plant already exist.
The work is based on an engineering survey conducted last year by consultancy Frazer-Nash commissioned by the UK government. “The study concludes that this is technically feasible and does not require any advances in the laws of physics, new materials or component technology,” Soltau said.
At the same conference, Andrew Ross Wilson, a space engineering researcher at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, agreed that a space solar power plant is a realistic project.
“The concept has been around since the 1960s,” he noted, adding that among the challenges in operating this plant is the question of what will happen to the giant structure once it reaches the end of its useful life. “We need to try to look at recycling in orbit to really move towards a more circular economy.”
According to Soltau, the development plan is for 12 years, during which time a pilot plant, assembled by robots, can already be seen in orbit, radiating gigawatts of energy from space to Earth.
The space highlights that the project is exploring a modular concept called CASSIOPeiA (Constant Slot, Solid State, Integrated, Orbital Phase or Constant Slot, Solid State, Integrated, Phased Orbital Array, in Portuguese), developed by British engineering firm International Electric. company.
This modular nature of the in-tropical vegetation means that it can be expanded beyond the display phase. But even the demonstrator will be gigantic, several kilometers in diameter, and will orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth.
“The satellite’s main functions are to collect solar energy through large optical mirrors and concentrate the energy into photovoltaic cells, just as we do on Earth,” Soltau reported. “It produces direct electric current, which is then transmitted to microwaves via solid-state radio frequency power amplifiers and transmitted in a coherent microwave beam to Earth.”
According to the researchers, CASSIOPeiA will produce significantly more electricity than any similar sized ground-based solar plant. When comparing a solar panel installed in the UK and a similar panel installed in space, the latter would harvest 13 times as much energy.
Another advantage is that the space station will not suffer from the intermittency problem, which has plagued most renewable energy generation on Earth.
To receive energy from space, the system would require a giant ground antenna. The device, nicknamed “Retina,” receives microwave radiation sent from space and converts it into a direct electric current used to transmit high voltage.
The structure acts as an open network of antennas measuring 7 x 13 kilometers. Soltau concludes, “This is quite large, but in the context of the UK, it would only occupy about 40% of the area of an equivalent solar farm.”
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