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European Space Agency Considering Space-Based Solar Power Potential


The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled details of its ambitious Solaris project, which aims to collect solar energy in space and transmit it wirelessly to Earth. This initiative seeks to complement terrestrial renewable energy sources that are often limited by weather conditions. ESA is collaborating with government bodies, energy companies, and space industry leaders to assess the project's viability, aiming to make a strategic decision by the end of 2025.


ESA highlights the continuous and expandable nature of space-based solar power as a viable response to both present and impending energy needs. According to Sanjay Vijendran, the head of the Solaris project, this technology is crucial for tackling the climate crisis and achieving carbon neutrality. He emphasized that, if adopted, space-based solar could significantly contribute to solving global energy challenges as soon as the 2030s.


Vijendran is scheduled to discuss Solaris at the upcoming International Conference on Energy from Space in London. He noted that the technology underpinning this concept is not new; it parallels methods used in telecommunications where satellites transmit minimal energy amounts via radio-frequency waves to terrestrial stations.


Sanjay Vijendran notes that while the basic concept of space-based solar power involves larger energy transmissions than those used in telecommunications, making it effective presents a series of technical challenges. To address these issues, the Solaris project is exploring an alternative approach using large mirrors in space. These mirrors would focus sunlight directly onto existing solar farms on Earth, potentially paving the way for more complex technologies like radio-frequency solar power satellites.


The European Space Agency (ESA) considers this mirror-based method less technically demanding than the radio-frequency approach. Consequently, it could be launched sooner, serving as a preliminary step to test and refine the technologies needed for future radio-frequency solar power constellations.


The European Space Agency (ESA) is gearing up to tackle the expected complexities of implementing space-based solar power, focusing on the extensive infrastructure required both in orbit and on Earth. Sanjay Vijendran emphasized that recent advancements are making these challenges increasingly manageable. Innovations such as cost-effective reusable launch systems, robotics, in-orbit servicing, and wireless power transmission are key factors in overcoming these hurdles.


Recent industry activities underscore the growing interest and feasibility of this technology. In late 2022, the UK-based engineering firm IECL started a project to harness solar power in space for use on Earth. Furthermore, in early 2023, the California Institute of Technology launched a test spacecraft to evaluate the practicality of space-based solar power, marking significant progress in this ambitious field.

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