Many have thought that producing solar energy with photovoltaic cells in space could be a science fiction story, but the idea of taking advantage of solar energy in space is not new; this idea exists since the 60’s and was studied intensely during the oil crisis in the 1970’s. However, this project was abandoned because of the low cost of fuels such as oil and its derivatives. In addition, harnessing the energy of the sun with the power plants of orbital space and transmitting power to the Earth has been discussed by thousands of scientists around the world for some years ago.
Taking into account that there is no interference in the form of gases and other compounds in space, such as in the atmosphere, why not put solar panels in the space to generate solar energy? As scientists have explained at the conference on technologies and new forms of energy made a year ago in New York, scientists have proposed the placement of several satellites in a fixed orbit, with their respective photovoltaic modules, which could capture the light solar uninterrupted. In this way, a space module placed in the correct orbit would be able to capture six to eight times more energy than that same module placed on Earth. The problem comes at the time of transporting that energy captured the thousands of kilometers that separate the satellite from the terrestrial surface. In addition, NASA has decided to finance a one-year study on the cost of an electric generation project with solar energy in space. NASA will know all the associated costs and conduct a feasibility study to make this energy commercially viable.
The new space solar energy study at the Colorado School of Mines in Colorado City is one of five research projects chosen by NASA to examine new opportunities for commercial development in space. What NASA pursues is to know the potential of solar energy generation in space, as well as its economic feasibility to use it as a fuel on Earth. In this case, the research will consider government regulations and private investments needed to establish solar power plants that could transmit energy to land-based collection stations. In addition, another important point is the idea of supporting robotic mining operations on the moon or asteroids. According to some specialists, this project will allow planning the colonization of some planets and stars beyond the Solar System.
“It’s one thing to model this and say this is what we think the cost will be,” said Ian Lange, director of the Colorado Minerals and Energy Economics Program, in a press release. “It’s another thing to say how people are going to buy this, how are we going to ensure that costs do not get out of control, how are we going to market this or sell it to some kind of bank or venture capital fund?”
How does this technology work?
According to scientists, a microwave-based system would be the easiest way to send the energy accumulated in the orbiting satellites to the surface of the earth to be consumed by factories and other facilities militaries. According to the scientists, the transmission of energy by high frequency waves, which have a low wavelength would be the best option because it would give efficiency and would not be any threat to living beings.
There is still a lot of skepticism about the generation of solar energy in space for several reasons. On the one hand the supposed efficiency of the transport of the energy; on the other, the high cost of installing solar panels on geostationary satellites more than 35,000 kilometers from Earth’s orbit.
Installing self-replicating solar panels in space
Including, there is an idea about installing solar panels that have the ability to build themselves, that is, autonomously, on the surface of the moon. Later, they would enter Earth orbit, collect solar energy and send it to many receivers on Earth wirelessly as well.
In addition, many large-scale experiments have been carried out by some space agencies, including the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Last March, a team of researchers from Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and several Japanese companies , including Mitsubishi Electric, successfully completed a decisive test to answer this question.
Scientists were able to transform 1.8 kilowatts of electricity into electromagnetic waves, then transmit them between two antenna panels located 55 meters away and finally convert them back into electrical energy.
“It is only a first step, but it is key to the practical application of space solar energy,” Daisuke Goto, one of the scientists in charge of the SSPS (Space Solar Energy Systems) project, told Efe.
From this method of microwave transmission, energy could be generated with solar panels placed in orbit and sent to the earth, the researcher said in a telephone interview.