Research

Solar energy, extracted directly from space. Is it even possible?

More than seventy years ago, in 1941, IsaacAzimov wrote a story in which the energy of the sun was transmitted through microwave rays to neighboring planets with the help of a space station. Years passed, and today scientists are trying to translate this science fiction into reality on Earth. The concepts of using solar energy derived from space or directly in space have been developed since the mid-20th century. Many projects are waiting in the wings.

Solar energy is the future

Using solar energy in space (SBSP), wecould solve our energy and greenhouse gas problems with minimal environmental impact. Professor Sergio Pellegrino from Caltech recently stated that the massive energy production of the SBSP system and the fact that our sun will work for another 10 billion years suggests that the energy source will not run out for us for a long time.

One of the most extensive NASA research for alltime, the Satellite Power System Concept Development and Evaluation Program, was devoted specifically to the SBSP and cost more than $ 50 million, it was held from 1976 to 1980. Another fundamental research funded by NASA to reassess and understand the feasibility of SBSP was called Space Solar Power Exploratory Research and Technology. The study included a huge amount of solid scientific research, but the overall conclusion was as follows:

"Large-scale SSP is very complicatedan integrated system of systems that requires numerous significant breakthroughs in modern technologies and capabilities. A roadmap has been developed that identifies potential paths to achieve all the necessary breakthroughs — albeit for several decades. ” - John S. Mankins, September 7, 2000.

It is clear that nothing is clear. Let's dive deeper into the basics of this exponential technology and its feasibility.

What is solar energy derived from space?

Solar energy extracted in space is the concept of capturing solar energy in outer space and transmitting it directly to the Earth or other nearby planets.

Simply put, we could put somemechanism into outer space in order to almost continuously capture the energy of the Sun and transfer this energy to Earth. This can occur day or night, in the rain or under a clear sky. As soon as we receive energy on Earth for rectenna (a special antenna for energy), we can easily distribute it using our usual methods. Everything is very simple.

There are a lot of ideas related to configurationand the SBSP mechanism architecture that we could use. The location of the system, the architecture of the satellites, the collection of energy and the transmission of energy are the main major points to be considered when understanding the various SBSP systems. Given the number of proposed concepts, we will consider only some of the most visible options.

Where to place the system of extraction of solar energy?

Geosynchronous, it is geosynchronous, (GSO)orbit, medium-earth (COO) and low-earth orbit (LEO) - these are options for consideration. The most promising is the GSO because of the simplified geometry and alignment of the antenna with respect to rectenna, scalability, and near-continuous power transfer. The main problem of the GSO is a large amount of radiation. General cosmic hazards, such as micrometeorites or solar flares, also pose a threat.

Satellite architecture

Create moon factories with lots oftransport or develop asteroids for assembling or self-assembling satellites SBSP - in any case, the creation of autonomous space factories will be a difficult task. Any construction in space will require the use of local and free materials (that is, lunar), while imposing certain restrictions on the complexity of the structures, if compared with those that can be built on Earth.

One interesting installation that we are currently building on Earth is the modular solar battery developed by Caltech and Northrop Grumann. Watch her video below.

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Another interesting concept from a private companySolaren. In the future, she plans to conduct an experiment with the construction of a 250 MW SBSP solar power plant in a geostationary orbit. In 2009, Solaren entered into an agreement with California's largest energy company PG & E to provide it with space solar energy.

Even NASA with the concept of an arbitrarily large phased array (developed in 2012) has attracted recent attention from John S. Mankins, one of the world's leading SBSP experts.

How to collect the energy of the sun in space?

Two main concepts associated with the collectionenergy, is the use of photovoltaic cells (solar cells) or solar heat. You can capture the heat of the sun (and hence energy) using mirrors to concentrate the light and heat the liquid. Steam, in turn, will rotate the turbine and generate electricity. This concept has a certain weight advantage over solar panels, because it reduces the total mass per watt. However, in most concepts it is supposed to use over-light and high-efficiency photovoltaic cells.

How to transfer the energy of the sun from space?

Microwave power transmission is a typical choice inSBSP designs are due to overall efficiency, but the use of laser beam power transmission is another interesting option due to reduced weight and cost. However, at the thought of a powerful laser beam, there is a fear that it can be turned into a space weapon (death ray). However, security protocols could easily eliminate this threat. Designs can be created to meet all the requirements for safe levels of microwave energy. There will be no threat to the inhabitants of cities and living beings on the path of the rays to the earth. A simple feedback between the antenna and rectal would allow the transmission to be cut down if it deviates from the course.

Now that we have understood better what SBSP is, let's dive into its greatest limitations.

Cost of installation of the transfer of cosmic energy

It may seem that everything is beautiful and the sunIt will be billions of years to provide us with free energy. However, there is always a catch. We have already noted a number of security issues, but the main obstacle is the cost of shipping all the materials needed for the SBSP. Current estimates of the cost of sending approximately 1 kg of payload into space vary from 9,000 to 43,000 US dollars, depending on the rocket and spacecraft used.

If we only look at sending solarpanels, the lower limit of the spectrum of the cost of launching an ultra-light SBSP system with a capacity of 4 MW is 4000 metric tons. But most likely the SBSP will be in the range of 80,000 metric tons.

Low grade: 4,000 metric tons x 9,000 dollars per kilogram = 36,000,000,000 dollars

High mark: 80,000 metric tons x 43,000 dollars per kilogram = 3,440,000,000 dollars

Although these numbers will be extremely approximate, westill getting an approximate value of $ 36 billion to $ 3.4 trillion. Using a factory on the moon or an asteroid suddenly seems cheap.

NASA research results show thatcosmic solar energy is “economically viable” if starting costs fluctuate between $ 100–200 per kilogram. Although prices continue to fall, including thanks to SpaceX reusable rockets, there is still a long way to go. However, this trend will follow Ray Kurzweil's law of accelerating returns, and the price of launches will continue to decline from billions and millions to several hundred dollars.

Needless to say, the problem is not technology, but its cost.

Future of solar energy

The ability of the SBSP to provide clean and reliableelectricity for the planet around the clock and seven days a week cheaper than any other source is absolutely real. But it will take decades of investment, assembly, testing and successful implementation before the system begins to pay for its initial costs.

And yet, the right political climate is an essential component of promoting the SBSP as an actual energy source.

Why do we need the energy of the sun?

If policy is not taken into account, having received SBSP (or nuclear fusion) in the next decade, we could embody the following scientific concepts:

  • Space Lifts and Space Towers
  • Orbital rings - using space elevators, create a ring around the Earth instead of a space station for cheap cargo movement and space exploration
  • Dyson Spheres - giant shells covering the whole star and absorbing its entire energy output
  • Nesting Brains - Dyson puff spheres to transform stars into massive computers using the energy emitted by all stars
  • Worlds rings - artificial planets using a whole star

There are many options. It remains only to invent and develop them. Suggest your own? Start at our chat in Telegram.