The European Space Agency (ESA) is making strides in the realm of renewable energy by considering an audacious solution: space-based solar power (SBSP), which is the transmission of solar power from space back to Earth. This project has the potential to make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change, offering two primary benefits – access to a higher energy yield and consistent generation regardless of Earth’s weather conditions.
A project named Solaris, in collaboration with several European tech industry players including Swiss-based Astrostrom, is currently underway to test the viability of SBSP. The plan involves leveraging the Moon’s resources to launch a pioneering project that uses space-based solar power before extending the initiative to our own planet.
Astrostrom has proposed an inventive butterfly-inspired solar power satellite named the Greater Earth Lunar Power Station (GE⊕-LPS), strategically placed at an Earth-Moon Lagrange point some 61,350 km from the moon’s surface. This proposed satellite boasts an expansive square kilometer helix configuration, covered in V-shaped solar panels with built-in antennas.
Designed to be powered by the lunar resources, including solar cells made from iron pyrite available on the moon, the GE⊕-LPS satellite aims to deliver a steady 23MW of energy. However, its mission goes beyond just energy supply. The GE⊕-LPS could also serve as a tourist attraction, offer artificial gravity for health benefits, and set the stage for prospective settlements in the cislunar space.
Importantly, should this moon-based solar power project prove successful, it would herald a massive leap towards tackling Earth’s climate crisis through space-based solar power. As Sanjay Vijendran, the leader of the Solaris project explains, the construction of large-scale solar power satellites on Earth poses challenges, such as limited launch capacity and potential atmospheric pollution.
However, once the GE⊕-LPS has proven the viability of assembling solar power satellites in lunar orbit and creating components from lunar resources, these could be mass-produced to benefit Earth. Furthermore, launching these lunar-made satellites requires around five times less velocity change to reach geostationary orbit than those launched from Earth.
Vijendran believes that this project could be a stepping stone to the development of an entire cislunar transportation system, mining and manufacturing facilities on the Moon, leading to a two-planet economy and the dawn of a space-faring civilization.
Astrostrom’s research suggests that the necessary technologies for this project, such as lunar surface mining, beneficiation, and fabrication, are already operational or being developed on Earth. These could be modified for lunar conditions, delivered to the Moon in modular form, and managed by tele-robotics.
Their economic assessment also offers promising results, revealing that Moon-produced solar power satellites would be more economical than those built on Earth. Furthermore, the electricity generated by these satellites could compete with traditional terrestrial power sources in terms of cost. As such, this initiative could potentially revolutionize how we approach renewable energy and how we manage the climate crisis.