Solar panel arrays in space?

Solar power is a wonderful, clean energy generating technology set to play an increasing role in addressing our future power needs, but its major challenge (aside from costs for solar equipment, which are rapidly decreasing) is that it only works when the sun is shining.

There is one place however where the sun shines 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and there’s never any cloud cover to contend with – space.

Once the stuff of science fiction, the idea of placing large arrays of solar panels in Earth’s orbit and using microwave transmissions to beam the electricity generated to receptor antenna stations may become reality in the not too distant future. As climate change starts to really be felt and the era of cheap energy rapidly draws to a close, these factors are making what were previously outlandish concepts more attractive and financially viable.

The idea of beaming solar power from space isn’t new. The solar power satellite, or SPS or Powersat concept was first tabled in 1968 and in 1973 Peter Glaser was granted a US patent for the concept.

Throughout the years since, the idea has been revisited several times, but cheap electricity and the expense of solar technology has prevented such a project from ever being realized. Additionally, the high cost of launching payloads into space has been a major hurdle. Current rates on the Space Shuttle run between AUD $9,000 and $15,000 per kilogram to low Earth orbit

However, in 2007, an article on Fox News reported the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office (NSSO)  may soon begin a study on the possibility of using satellites to collect solar energy. A Pentagon spokesman stated that if found viable, a system could be hopefully be deployed in around 20 years.

You can learn more about the solar power satellite concept here.