The ESA aims to make 24/7 space-based solar energy harvesting a reality

The Solaris program will study space-based solar power amid rising energy concerns.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a space-based solar power station.

ESA / A. Treuer 

The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to approve a three-year study to determine whether sending huge solar farms into space could effectively meet the world's energy demands, a report from the BBC reveals.

A space-based solar power plant would be launched into a geostationary orbit, meaning it would orbit in a fixed location over the Earth that would be hit by the Sun 24/7.

So, if all goes to plan, the technology could one day harvest massive amounts of energy from space — enough to power millions of homes.

Space-based solar power could "solve a lot of problems"

The ESA's space-based solar power initiative is called Solaris, and it is one of several similar projects worldwide, including ongoing research by China's Xidian University, which has built a 75-meter-tall (246-feet-tall) steel tower to test the technology for a ground receiving station, and Caltech's Space Solar Power Project.

Research ministers at the ESA's triennial council are expected to meet today, Tuesday, November 22, to discuss the ESA'S idea. They will also consider several other proposals before deciding the budget for the next phase of the space agency's space technology development plans.

In an interview with the BBC, ESA director general Josef Aschbacher said, "we do need to convert into carbon neutral economies and therefore change the way we produce energy and especially reduce the fossil fuel part of our energy production. If you can do it from space, and I'm saying if we could, because we are not there yet, this would be absolutely fantastic because it would solve a lot of problems."

The ESA's Solaris proposal comes at a time when the world is increasingly turning to novel renewable energy technologies, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine deepens the energy crisis in many parts of the world.

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Supercharging space-based solar power

Though the idea has been around for decades, until recently, space-based solar power has been viewed as too expensive and difficult to put into practice. With the sharp reduction in launch costs of recent years, spearheaded by the likes of SpaceX and Rocket Lab, and new advances in robotic manufacturing, scientists have increasingly been calling for reassessing solar space farming.

The ESA's Solaris program aims to test and research the technology required to harvest energy in space before wirelessly moving it to a receiving station using microwave beams. This has already been shown to work over relatively small distances. During a September demonstration test at Airbus' HQ in Munich, engineers successfully sent 2 KW of electricity collected by solar panels to collectors more than 30 meters away.

The next step is to determine whether this can be carried out over more than 22,000 miles (35,400 km) at which geostationary satellites typically orbit above the Earth.

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