- California’s Caltech has fixed December 2022 as the launch of its prototype module solar power generation system into orbit
- The project comprises 4×4 inch tiles made up of ultralight high-efficiency solar cells mounted on a flexible structure to gather sunlight directly
- Energy generated will be beamed back to the earth on location where it is needed via microwaves
Come December 2022 and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) will launch into orbit a prototype modular power generation system consisting of 4×4 inch tile of ultralight high-efficiency solar cells, to beam back to the earth solar power as microwaves to be used wherever needed, including places with no access to reliable power.
This plan is part of the Space-based Solar Power Project (SSPP) of Caltech which was earlier planning the 1st prototype test launch in early 2023 (see Caltech to Test Solar Power Generation In Space).
Having developed a prototype tile over the last 2 years to capture and transmit power, the team then developed a 2nd prototype making it 33% lighter than the 1st one. These will now be mounted on a very flexible structure of ‘flying carpet-like satellites’ that will be unfurled to create a sunlight-gathering surface measuring 3.5 sq miles.
Power can be generated 24×7, including nighttime and during cloudy days with these panels by capturing sunlight from the sun, converting it into electricity and sending it to the earth which means energy storage may not be required, according to SSPP researcher Harry A. Atwater.
“It is going to revolutionize the nature of energy and access to it so that it becomes ubiquitous, it becomes dispatchable energy. You can send it where you need it,” explained Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Co-Director of SSPP, Ali Hajimiri while describing its impact. “This redirection of energy is done without any mechanical movements, purely through electrical means using a focusing array, which makes it extremely fast.”
Solar power generation in the space for earth is something that has several takers – and has been worked on for many years. In August 2022, the European Space Agency launched a request for information for breakthrough technologies for space based solar power (see European RFI For Space Based Solar Power Technologies).