Our universe is full of surprises, and the sun has always been a mystery. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian scientist, conceptualized space-based solar power (SBSP) generation hundreds of years ago. This concept has always been the fodder of space dreams, but every day, scientists are hard at work creating a more energy efficient reality through space-based solar power.
The sun has lit this planet for centuries and every year, and we’ve only scratched the surface of figuring out all the ways to harness and use solar power. That big ball of fire in the sky has sparked inspiration and innovation since the dawn of time. While we’re not exactly flying around in saucers, we’re one step closer to utilizing space-based solar power on a wide scale.
Let’s blast off into everything there is to know about space-based solar.
What is Space-Based Solar Power?
Space-based solar is a form of sustainable renewable energy. It’s the process of harnessing energy from the sun and transmitting it back to Earth. All you brainiacs might have guessed it: this means there’s a way to tap into large quantities of solar power right from the source.
Space exploration isn’t all about aliens and discovering new planets in our solar system, though that stuff is pretty cool too. When we explore the universe outside of our tiny planet, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for finding consistent energy reserves.
So, what is space-based solar power? Let’s take a closer look at some of the giant leaps humankind has made.
From Science Fiction to Real Life
Space has always been a riveting topic for imaginative stories. Writers eagerly take advantage of the unknown terrain to create beautiful and sometimes frightening fiction. But when considering Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question,” the relevancy of that fiction becomes very real.
Asimov writes about a human civilization that has mastered the use of solar energy through a hovering Solar Station. It cures all of the Earth’s power needs by transmitting solar power right from the source. Who would have thought this nifty innovation could have concrete results?
A Wasted Charge
So, how can we take the imaginary and make it tangible? Well, let’s first evaluate the motivation for receiving the most solar energy to put it to good use on our planet. The truth is there are many great benefits to utilizing solar power, but there are a few hold ups with it as well.
As of now, only about 48% of solar energy reaches the Earth’s surface. The rest of that incoming solar energy is lost through absorption into Earth’s atmosphere (taken away by gases, dust, etc.) and reflection, which sends a 23% chunk back into space. This results in above a 55-60% loss when attempting to harness solar energy to use. That’s a lot of energy going to waste!
From Boundaries to Possibilities
Space-based solar power allows less energy to be lost in collection. With the addition of solar panels, the satellites will capture and transmit substantially more energy back to Earth.
How Does It Work?
While you might be keen on how solar panels work, there still might be a thing or two to learn about how they can work in space-based solar power. Through recent technological developments, SBSP is closer than you might think.
Here’s one of the most promising ideas for space-based solar power floating around right now.
Satellites are launched into space with the ability to self-assemble their reflectors and power transmitters. There are two types of satellite transmitters – microwave and laser that are commonly described in plans for SBSP. Ideally, microwave satellites would have to be sent 35,000KM away from Earth and laser transmitting satellites must be 400KM.
Reflectors are inflatable mirrors that reflect sunlight. The reflectors will spread and be used to direct solar radiation to the solar panels.
Solar energy must be transformed into usable energy so that it can be transmitted back to Earth. The solar panels convert solar power into either microwave or laser energy.
The satellites beam a ton of power down to Earth, headed straight for the electric grid. This process is anything but perfect. Laser-transmitting satellites have difficulty beaming through heavy clouds. Microwave-transmitting satellites are difficult to repair because of their distance from our planet.
Today, microwave and laser satellites are the most frequently discussed designs for SBSP. Let’s take a look at how we got here.
We Have Lift-Off! SBSP Takes Flight Across the Years
In our last learning series, we learned that solar has really taken off in recent years. We’re finally heading towards infinity with technological advances. These developments offer stability and efficiency with the process for collecting solar energy. Science is getting closer and closer to building the solar energy powerhouse of Asimov’s dreams.
Here are a few ways solar has blasted off over the years.
Solar-Powered Satellites in Orbit
In 1958, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the Vanguard I. Still in orbit today, the Vanguard I was the first satellite to be powered by solar energy.
In 1964, NASA launched the first Nimbus satellite, which dawned solar panel wings. In short, there were eight Nimbus satellites being used for meteorological research and development. They also sported solar panel wings.
Satellites are our first attempts to tiptoe into grabbing solar from space. Consequently, with a call from the universe, innovation has broadened our scope.
Solar at the International Space Station
In 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) supported a huge advancement for solar panels by installing them on its wings. Welcome to the largest solar power array ever launched into space with each array consisting of 32,800 solar cells.
Subsequently, the ISS sports a whopping 262,400 solar cells that cover an area of about 27,000 square feet today. And it doesn’t stop there.
Space-based Solar Power Stations
Dr. Peter Glasner obtained the patent for a space-based solar power station back in 1973, but it didn’t come to fruition in his lifetime. Five years after Glasner’s final departure, China announced plans to launch a solar power station in space in 2019. They hope to launch in 2035.
While we’re not quite there with SBSP, we’re still trying to discover the beyond and find new ways to turn sunshine into energy.
Think Bigger, Go Beyond
Isn’t it time we conquered space? We know something big about “The Great Unknown.” Above all, there’s more than enough solar energy for the taking. If we combat some of the hurdles with space-based solar power, we could power the globe in excess.
Much of the technology we currently have already makes harvesting solar energy feasible. As a result, rapidly advancing innovation continues to bring us closer every day to widespread use of the sustainable and clean source of solar power.
If you want to know how you can do your part, contact a ADT Solar Energy Specialist today to see how solar can power your home and make your budget soar!