Solar power is no longer just an Earth-bound resource. A groundbreaking study has indicated that space might be the next frontier for harvesting this renewable energy. With the looming climate crisis, the possibility of space-based solar power could be a game-changer.
The pioneering research was conducted by teams from the University of Surrey and the University of Swansea in the UK. They set out to examine the performance of solar panels mounted on a satellite, observing them through a remarkable 30,000 orbits over six years. The results? Space can indeed facilitate the generation of power through lightweight and cost-effective solar panels.
Expressing his satisfaction with the study’s outcome, Professor Craig Underwood, the Emeritus Professor of Spacecraft Engineering at the Surrey Space Centre, shared, “The longevity of the mission, expected to last only a year but spanning six, showcases the resilience of these panels. They’ve withstood space’s radiation and the challenges presented by its harsh thermal and vacuum conditions.”
The cornerstone of this research was a novel solar cell technology that utilized cadmium telluride, innovated by the University of Swansea. These solar cells stand out for various reasons: they’re expansive, light, potent, and are produced at a lower cost than their contemporaries.
In a joint effort, the University of Surrey crafted tools to gauge these panels’ efficacy in space. Notably, the satellite carrying these instruments was conceived and constructed at the Surrey Space Centre, with contributions from the Algerian Space Agency’s budding engineers.
The findings from the space orbit were promising. Although the power output of the cells observed a decline in efficiency over the years, there was no evidence of cell delamination or any significant degradation. This demonstrated the fundamental reliability of using such technology in space. Professor Underwood highlighted the potential, remarking, “This innovative solar cell technology could pave the way for extensive, budget-friendly solar power stations in space. The potential of delivering clean energy back to Earth is tremendous.”
There’s a unique allure to the idea of extracting solar power from space. The intensity of sunlight is over tenfold greater at the atmosphere’s peak than on Earth’s surface. Tapping into this energy from space could offer an efficiency level that’s challenging to achieve with terrestrial, weather-sensitive solar arrays.
The race to unlock the potential of space-based solar power (SBSP) isn’t just a local one. Nations worldwide are exploring the possibilities, with organizations like the European Space Agency (ESA) spearheading projects like Solaris.
This recent study, now available in the journal Astra Astronautica, holds significant promise for the future of SBSP. It’s an exciting leap towards making the dream of space solar farms a tangible reality.