System Selection | The UK wants to build a solar power plant in space by 2035

Airbus, the University of Cambridge and satellite maker SSTL are among the 50 companies involved in the project, which aims to generate energy directly from sunlight captured in space. The space solar plant is expected to be operational by 2035 and will generate energy to help the UK achieve its goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The person in charge of the initiative, Martin Soldav, said that all the technologies needed to make the project a reality were already in place and now the challenge was related to the size and scope of the space solar plant. Soltau quotes a British government-appointed study from the Frazer-Nash consulting firm that “this is technically feasible and does not require any improvement in the rules of physics, new materials or component technology.”

The project is expected to create a prototype of the solar plant over the next 12 years, using robots to integrate into space and predict the transmission of gigawatts of energy to Earth. This strategy is based on a modular concept, developed specifically for this purpose, which will make it possible to expand the solar installation in the future, after the demonstration phase.

The project involves launching more than 300 rocket launchers, such as SpaceX’s Starship, into orbit and setting the installation at an altitude of about 36,000 km, always visible to the sun and Earth.

Estimates suggest that a solar panel placed in space is 13 times more energy efficient than a single panel placed on Earth. Another advantage of the ‘up there’ placement is that it eliminates the flicker problem, as the sun is not always visible everywhere on earth due to the rotating rotation. In space, this ‘supply’ is stable and requires no additional storage efforts or batteries.

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Project guides estimate that to obtain energy from the earth, a giant antenna is needed to receive microwave radiation sent from space and convert it into current used for high voltage transmission.

Another challenge still facing is the use of such a large infrastructure at the end of its life cycle: “We need to look at recycling in orbit to move towards a more rounded economy,” Soldov added.

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