It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but recent tests carried out on solar satellites show that it may actually be possible to transmit beams of energy from space back to earth. The efficiency of solar panels is an on-going debate but this proposed new technology could open up all sorts of possibilities. Microwaves or laser beams could be used to send energy beams from solar panels in space with the objective is to provide energy to disaster areas or regions that do not have access to energy.
It has also been suggested that a nucleus of small satellites could provide enough energy to power towns and cities. Solar power has developed slowly due to it initially high price and poor energy conversion rate. Researchers from Strathclyde University have evaluated equipment in space, on the possibility of collecting solar energy from panels and transferring this power to earth. The satellites would not be a substitute for ordinary power sources for the grid, merely a first-phase act as a source of energy to disaster or outlay regions.
The research at Strathclyde’s department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering is being led by Dr. Massimiliano Vasile. There would need to be a ‘receiver tool’ on earth to collect the laser or microwave, and convert it into usable electricity. Studies appear to confirm that at least small-scale solar space energy collection is feasible. According to Dr. Massimilano Vasile, it is possible to collect solar power regardless of the weather and time, as in space, solar energy is provided during day and night.
The technology available today, small satellites, could generate sufficient energy to power small villages. However, the aim is to establish large satellites structure, which will be able to collect enough green space solar energy to power large cities, such as London, Tokyo or New York. Last month, a ‘space web’ experiment was carried out where a rocket was sent to the Arctic Circle, at the border of space. There was also a network of satellites deployed to collect the beam ones sent back to our planet.
The ‘space web’ experiment is called Suaineadh, and provides significant insight on how to bring solar power projects to the next stage. The Suaineadh experiment is part of the SAM (Self-inflating Adaptable Membrane) project. The next step is to further place reflectors to harness the solar power. The current structures of the solar satellites are made of self-inflating vacuum, which is able to alter the volume collected through nano-pumps.
The SAM project is part of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study, which is being led by Dr. John Mankins from the Artemis Innovation. Currently, the NIAC study is proving and evaluating the best potential conceptual design to build a large scale solar power satellite. The research team at University of Strathclyde is concentrating on the structural element of how to establish orbit control of the satellites.
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