Space based solar power is the idea of capturing solar power using devices based in outer space and then sending it to earth. To achieve this, it would be necessary to have some mechanism in space that can capture solar energy continuously and transmit it to earth. The power can then be distributed through normal methods once it reaches the earth.
Ideas for SBSP
Many ideas have been proposed for how space based solar power would work. Here are some of the options for this type of power.
When it comes to location, we can opt for a geosynchronous orbit (GEO), low Earth orbit (LEO), or mid-Earth orbit (MEO). The best option thus far is a GEO. The reason for this is that the alignment of the receiving antenna and the space antenna would be easier. The only problem is the amount of radiation exposure and hazards such as solar flares and micro meteors.
The major challenge with the creation of space based solar power system is how to build one. One option is a modular solar array that is being developed by Northrop Grumman and Caltech. Solaren, a private company is the solar sector is also working on a GEO solar array plant. The company even has a deal with a Californian energy company to supply them with space solar power.
Collecting the Energy
The other major issue is how to collect energy from space based solar power system. One idea is to use mirrors in space to capture solar power and direct it to a base where it heats a liquid to spin electric turbines. While this concept helps to reduce the mass per watt, most designs still prefer ultra-light PV panels.
How to Transmit Energy
The main option for transmitting energy from space-based systems is the use of microwave rays. However, using laser beams has been considered. The fear is that microwave energy systems could be turned into a space-based energy weapon. As a result, most designs require that the microwave transmission remains within the OSHA workplace exposure requirements.
The Cost of Space Based Solar Power
To take a kilo of payload into space costs around $9000 to $43,000 depending on the spacecraft and rocket being used. For a 4MW solar system, it would weigh around 4 metric tons, and the cost would be around $36 billion. A useful system would need to be around 80,000 metric tons and the cost would be around $3.4 trillion. Various studies have shown that if the launch cost were cut to around $100, the space based solar power would be a viable option. In short, technology is not an issue; it is the cost.
The future of Space Base Solar Energy
While the cost is high, space based solar power could provide reliable and clean energy for the earth. For now, we are still decades away from launch. However, it is good to see that serious scientists are working on the issue and trying to find solutions to the problems.
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