Space-based solar power stations: A potential reality

Solar farms in space could revolutionise clean energy generation


Researchers from the Universities of Surrey and Swansea have declared the feasibility of low-cost, lightweight solar panels that can generate power in space. The implications of this research are profound, potentially paving the way for the establishment of commercially viable solar farms in space. 

This study, the first of its kind, observed a satellite over a span of six years, meticulously examining how the panels generated energy and withstood the relentless bombardment of solar radiation during over 30,000 orbits.

Professor Craig Underwood, Emeritus Professor of Spacecraft Engineering at the Surrey Space Centre, expressed his excitement about the unexpected longevity of the mission, remarking, "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. 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 breakthrough was made possible through the collaboration between the University of Swansea's Centre for Solar Energy Research and the University of Surrey. Scientists from Swansea developed new solar cells using cadmium telluride, resulting in panels that cover a larger surface area, are incredibly lightweight, and offer significantly greater power output compared to current technology. Additionally, these advanced solar cells can be manufactured at a relatively low cost.

The University of Surrey played a crucial role in the research by designing instruments that measured the performance of the solar panels while in orbit. The satellite itself, a testament to the ingenuity and expertise of the Surrey Space Centre, was constructed in partnership with a team of aspiring engineers from the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL). 

Dr. Dan Lamb from the University of Swansea highlighted the significance of this successful flight test, stating, "The successful flight test of this novel thin film solar cell payload has leveraged funding opportunities to further develop this technology. 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 reputation for space technology."

This research opens up new horizons for harnessing solar energy beyond the confines of our planet. With the potential for large-scale, cost-effective solar power stations in space, the dream of bringing clean energy back to Earth is inching closer to becoming a reality. 

Despite a slight decrease in power output efficiency over time, the researchers remain confident that their findings demonstrate the viability of solar power satellites and their potential for commercial success.

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp