It's the stuff of science fiction: Solar panels in space that beam power directly to Earth equipping the planet with clean renewable and affordable energy. Yet, it could soon be reality.
Caltech has just received $100 million in funding for their Space Solar Power Project (SSPP). The project is described by Caltech as: "Collecting solar power in space and transmitting the energy wirelessly to Earth through microwaves enables terrestrial power availability unaffected by weather or time of day. Solar power could be continuously available anywhere on earth."
"This ambitious project is a transformative approach to large-scale solar energy harvesting for the Earth that overcomes this intermittency and the need for energy storage," said SSPP researcher Harry Atwater in the Caltech press release on the matter.
And SSPP is approaching a significant milestone: A test launch of multifunctional technology-demonstrator prototypes that collect sunlight and convert it to electrical energy, transfer energy wirelessly in free-space using radio frequency (RF) electrical power, and deploy ultralight structures that will be used to integrate them.
The project is not without its limitations. Currently, the researchers are still working on ways to collect enough energy that it’s worth doing in the first place. They're also working on ways to beam that energy down to the surface in a way that doesn’t lose most of it on its way down.
But it does have tremendous potential and could see a launch sooner than expected.
"[Launch] is currently expected to be Q1 2023," co-director of the project Ali Hajimiri told TechCrunch. "It involves several demonstrators for space verification of key technologies involved in the effort, namely, wireless power transfer at distance, lightweight flexible photovoltaics and flexible deployable space structures."
"The final system is envisioned to consist of multiple deployable modules in close formation flight and operating in synchronization with one another," Hajimiri added. "Each module is several tens of meters on the side and the system can be built up by adding more modules over time."
Other similar projects are already underway, so time will tell which will launch first.