The 110-pound experimental model will transmit back information regarding three distinct energy initiatives.
Yesterday saw the launch of a revolutionary prototype satellite, designed to harvest solar energy, onboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The 110-pound prototype, named the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD), has been funded by defense manufacturer Northrop Grumman and the Bren family’s $100 million endowment. This is the product of more than a decade of research and two years of testing functional components inspired by origami. Its first experiments will provide data for three major projects: Deployable on-Orbit ultraLight Composite Experiment (DOLCE); ALBA (Italian for “dawn”); and Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE).
The DOLCE project will examine the use of lightweight foldable structures that can be deployed to capture sunlight. At the same time, ALBA will explore which types of photovoltaic cells are best suited for withstanding the extreme conditions present in space. Finally, MAPLE seeks to test microwave transmitters that may one day be used to send collected solar energy back down to Earth via wireless electricity. The SSPD’s initial experiments won’t provide any solar power. Instead, the team is focused on identifying which materials, designs, and methods could result in a cost-effective solution in future applications.
The potential benefits of harvesting solar power from space are virtually limitless. A study conducted in 2007 estimated that sending up a half-mile-wide band of photovoltaics into orbit could generate as much energy as all remaining oil reserves combined within one year – an incredible figure considering how much pollution such fuel sources create when burned. Using high-energy lasers, this energy could then be transferred back to Earth at around 80% efficiency; this would provide clean power even in areas where access to reliable electrical grids is limited or non-existent.
Although space engineering is an expensive undertaking, there is no denying that this project represents a significant advance forward. Regardless of the outcome of these first tests with the SSPD, they have provided valuable insight into how we might one day make space solar farming a reality – thus offering us an entirely new way to access renewable energy sources and reduce our reliance on polluting fossil fuels.
Jonas Muthoni is an entrepreneur and renewable energy expert. He is the founder of MicroGridMedia.com, a website dedicated to bringing the latest news and information about solar energy and other renewable energy sources to the public. Jonas is passionate about promoting sustainable energy solutions and educating the public about the benefits of renewable energy. He is a regular speaker at industry events and conferences and is committed to driving the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.