Space-based solar farms prove viable in six-year university study
by Rocket Boy
Guildford UK (SPX) Oct 25, 2023
A groundbreaking six-year study by the Universities of Surrey and Swansea has confirmed the feasibility of low-cost, lightweight solar panels capable of generating power in space. The research provides compelling evidence supporting the commercial potential of space-based solar farms.
The study, the first of its kind, tracked a satellite through over 30,000 orbits to monitor the performance and resilience of its onboard solar panels. Developed to understand how these solar panels withstand solar radiation and the extreme conditions of space, the research offers valuable insights for future large-scale, cost-effective solar energy projects in orbit.
Professor Craig Underwood, Emeritus Professor of Spacecraft Engineering at the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, emphasized the significance of the satellite’s longevity. “We are very pleased that a mission designed to last one year is still working after six. These detailed data show the panels have resisted radiation and their thin-film structure has not deteriorated in the harsh thermal and vacuum conditions of space,” he said.
Professor Underwood also highlighted the game-changing potential of the technology: “This ultra-low mass solar cell technology could lead to large, low-cost solar power stations deployed in space, bringing clean energy back to Earth – and now we have the first evidence that the technology works reliably in orbit.”
The solar panels for the study were developed by researchers from the University of Swansea’s Centre for Solar Energy Research. These panels were constructed using cadmium telluride solar cells, enabling them to cover a larger area and provide greater power output compared to existing technology. Furthermore, the manufacturing process for these panels is relatively economical.
To evaluate the panels’ performance in space conditions, scientists from the University of Surrey designed specialized instruments. The satellite utilized for the study was built at the Surrey Space Centre, in collaboration with a team of trainee engineers from the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL).
While the solar cells did exhibit a decline in efficiency over the years, the researchers concluded that the technology remains promising for long-term applications in space. Dr. Dan Lamb from the University of Swansea pointed out the future implications of the study: “The successful flight test of this novel thin-film solar cell payload has leveraged funding opportunities to further develop this technology.”
Dr. Lamb added, “Large area solar arrays for space applications are a rapidly expanding market and demonstrations such as this help to build on the UK’s world-class reputations for space technology.”
The study’s conclusions set the stage for potential commercial applications, significantly contributing to the UK’s position in the burgeoning space-based solar power market. With this research, the Universities of Surrey and Swansea have furnished the scientific community with vital data to pursue more efficient and durable space-based solar solutions, devoid of Earth’s atmospheric limitations.
1. Space and Energy Industry Analysts: 9/10
2. Stock and Finance Market Analyst: 8/10
3. Government Policy Analyst: 7/10
The six-year study conducted by the Universities of Surrey and Swansea has established the viability of low-cost, lightweight solar panels for space-based solar farms. The study tracked a satellite through over 30,000 orbits, focusing on the longevity, performance, and resilience of onboard solar panels. The solar panels were developed using cadmium telluride cells and exhibited durability and effectiveness in space conditions, albeit with some decline in efficiency over time.
Implications and Future Impacts:
– Space and Energy Industry Analysts: This research represents a technological leap in space-based solar power, a subject of intense focus over the past 25 years. With climate change and increasing energy demand, space-based solutions offer a way to bypass Earth’s atmospheric limitations. This study provides crucial data that can pave the way for commercial-scale projects.
– Stock and Finance Market Analysts: The positive findings could stimulate investments in companies specializing in space-based solar technology and related sectors. Given the UK’s ambition to be a leader in space technology, companies in this domain may see a surge in stock prices.
– Government Policy Analysts: Governments worldwide may see this as an opportunity to invest in renewable energy solutions that have long-term viability. With this technology, a nation can significantly reduce its carbon footprint while capitalizing on a growing industry.
Comparison with Past Trends:
The space and energy sectors have made significant advancements in recent years with reusable rockets, advancements in solar panel efficiency, and successful solar energy storage. However, space-based solar farms have remained largely theoretical until now. This study confirms what was mostly speculative and offers real, applicable data to move the industry forward.
1. What is the projected cost per watt for electricity generated by these space-based solar panels compared to Earth-based solar farms?
2. How will governments and organizations manage the space debris potentially generated by large-scale space-based solar farms?
3. What are the international legal implications for harvesting solar energy in space?
4. How would the efficiency and longevity of these solar panels compare to those in existing or planned Earth-based solar farms?
5. What potential exists for international collaboration in the development and deployment of space-based solar farms?
By examining these questions, analysts can deepen their understanding of the implications and future prospects of this groundbreaking research.