The European aerospace giant Airbus demonstrated in a new experiment how solar energy can be beamed from space.
So far, the wireless transmission system has only covered a distance of just over 100 feet, but engineers are confident they can extend the range to reach all the way into space within the next decade.
The demonstration, which took place in September at Airbus’ X-Works Innovation Factory in Germany, transferred electrical power from a photovoltaic panel in the form of microwaves to a receiver some 120 feet away. The beamed energy lit up a model city and powered a hydrogen generator and a refrigerator of non-alcoholic beer that the public later enjoyed.
Even though it may seem like a long way to go from 118 feet to SoilIn the Orbit of the Airbus, Airbus engineers believe “the first working Power Beaming prototypes could be up and running” by the early 2030s.
Related: A solar power station in space? The UK wants to build one by 2035.
“Having successfully tested the key building blocks of a future space-based solar energy system on a small scale for the first time, we are now ready to take power beaming to the next level,” said Yoann Thueux, Airbus’ research project leader, in a statement. a pronunciation.
Airbus will probably first try to beam solar energy from an aerial platform before aiming for space. in the end, solar energy harvested in space and beamed to aircraft could revolutionize aviation, the company believes. Flying aircraft could also serve as mobile nodes that could transmit power wherever it is needed on Earth.
“This could actually be a game changer for aircraft, with the potential to increase range, reduce weight, but also redirect power to other places, manage energy such as data,” Jean-Dominique Coste , a senior manager in Airbus’ Blue Sky division, which develops innovative technologies, said in the statement.
Space-based solar power could also help wean the world off fossil fuels and contribute to a carbon-free future in line with the calls of the international climate science community. Scientists believe that to prevent the planet from warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius on average, the global economy must be completely decarbonised by 2050. However, this goal is still not within reach United Nations report on climate change.
“Power beaming technologies could enable the creation of new energy networks in the sky and could help solve the energy problem,” Coste said. “They would allow countries to control their energy completely independently and to distribute it where necessary.”
Solar energy generation is much more efficient in space than on the Earth’s surface, where clouds and the day-night cycle prevent maximum illumination. In fact, solar radiation is 50% more intense in space, where there is no air in the way of the rays. However, the technology is not without drawbacks.
“If satellites captured the sunlight, they would have to measure about 2 kilometers [1.2 miles] to achieve the same power level as a nuclear power plant,” Thueux said.
And nothing of that size has ever flown in space. The largest space-borne structure ever built in orbit is the International Space Stationwhich is about the size of a football field.
Coste said the microwave beams that carry harvested solar energy “could be designed to prevent harm” to both technology and living things. He sees further benefits of the system in its ability to distribute power around the world without the need for further ground-based infrastructure.
“For example, it doesn’t require complex and costly ground infrastructure, power plants, pipelines or cables to distribute the Earth’s electricity,” Coste said. “That too is done by means of force rays.”
According to Airbus, the system would be no more expensive than conventional ground-based power generation infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants or large-scale solar or wind farms.
Regarded until recently as the realm of science fiction, space-based solar power has recently gained more prominence with the launch of the world’s leading space agencies development projects and feasibility studies that could lead to the first space-based energy harvesters flying in the next decade.
The space agencies admit that progress has been made in several areas, including robotics and production in orbitwould be necessary for visions of solar power in space to become a reality.