May 19, 2012
Flipping The Switch On Space Power
Researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland have made substantial progress toward harnessing the energy of the Sun from space. This solar power from space has the potential to change the future of renewable energy.
Equipment has been tested in space that would provide a platform for solar panels to collect energy and allow it to be transferred back to earth through microwaves or lasers.Dr Massimiliano Vasile, of the University of Strathclyde's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who is leading the space-based solar power research, said: "Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions.
"In areas like the Sahara desert where quality solar power can be captured, it becomes very difficult to transport this energy to areas where it can be used. However, our research is focusing on how we can remove this obstacle and use space based solar power to target difficult to reach areas."
"By using either microwaves or lasers we would be able to beam the energy back down to earth, directly to specific areas. This would provide a reliable, quality source of energy and would remove the need for storing energy coming from renewable sources on ground as it would provide a constant delivery of solar energy."
"Initially, smaller satellites will be able to generate enough energy for a small village but we have the aim, and indeed the technology available, to one day put a large enough structure in space that could gather energy that would be capable of powering a large city."
Last month a team of students from the university launched an innovative ℠space web´ experiment onboard a rocket near the Arctic Circle. The experiment was known as Suaineadh, or 'twisting' in Scots Gaelic. This was an important step forward in space construction design and demonstrated that larger structures could be built on top of a light-weight spinning web, paving the way for the next stage in the solar power project.
Dr Vasile added: "The success of Suaineadh allows us to move forward with the next stage of our project which involves looking at the reflectors needed to collect the solar power."
"The current project, called SAM (Self-inflating Adaptable Membrane) will test the deployment of an ultra light cellular structure that can change shape once deployed. The structure is made of cells that are self-inflating in vacuum and can change their volume independently through nanopumps."
"The structure replicates the natural cellular structure that exists in all living things. The independent control of the cells would allow us to morph the structure into a solar concentrator to collect the sunlight and project it on solar arrays. The same structure can be used to build large space systems by assembling thousands of small individual units."
The NIAC study is demonstrating a new conceptual design for large scale solar power satellites. The role of the team at the University of Strathclyde is to develop innovative solutions for the structural elements and new solutions for orbit and orbit control.