The UK is not alone in what’s billed as a new space race. China for one is in the game. If you think you’ve heard it all before, you probably have.
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Vast solar power satellites in Earth’s orbit, beaming energy back to Earth. It’s a serious idea for green energy from the UK Space Agency, say insurers MS Amlin.
In one of his early dystopian short stories, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov imagined a mile-wide space station that could “feed solar energy to the planets”.
Published in 1941, under the title Reason, it described a fantastical “energy converter” that gathered sunlight and beamed it across the entire solar system.
Some 80 years later, Asimov’s flight of fancy is starting to take real shape.
The UK government has commissioned research into space-based solar power systems that would use huge solar power satellites to collect solar energy, convert it into high-frequency radio waves, and safely beam it back to ground-based receivers connected to electrical power grids.
While scientists have recognised the potential of space-based solar power for decades, the cost implications have always been out of this world.
But now, thanks to rapid advances in lightweight solar panels, wireless power transmission technology, and lower-cost commercial space launches (such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme), the budget could be within reach.
Space-based solar power is turning from a pipe dream into a plausible outlier for zero-carbon, affordable electricity that could, in theory, beam power to homes and businesses all over the planet, with just the North and South Poles beyond reach, due to the positioning of the solar power satellites in Earth’s orbit.
Asimov was able to construct the space station with a few strokes of his pen. The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has instead commissioned a feasibility study of the leading international solar power satellite designs.
It has tasked a British consultancy called Frazer-Nash with solving the engineering and economic challenges. What would it cost and when could it be operational? And how would the massive satellites be assembled in orbit – something that has never before been done at this scale?
The aim is to deploy an operational space-based solar power system by 2050, as part of a future mix of clean-energy technologies. There is no time to lose. The UK is in a space race with the US, Japan and China to unlock the secrets of extra-terrestrial solar power.
Robert Walters is head of industrial strategy for UKSA. “The study from Frazer-Nash will report to government shortly,” he told Chart magazine.
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Official press release, November 2020: UK government commissions space solar power stations research
‘Solar energy harvested in space offers the potential for an unlimited and constant zero carbon power source’
Space based solar power overview diagram [image credit: Frazer-Nash Consultancy]
via Tallbloke’s Talkshop
August 27, 2021 at 02:27PM