Solar power from space will be reexamined by NASA

NASA has begun a study to reassess the feasibility of space-based solar energy, a long-promised method of generating electricity from space that may be gaining new traction as a result of technology advancements and clean-energy initiatives.

Nikolai Joseph of NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy said in a discussion at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference on May 27 that the agency was starting a short-term study analyzing the possibilities of space-based solar power (SBSP), the inaugural by the agency in nearly two decades.

“The system’s practicality has changed over the years as technology has progressed,” he explained. “The goal of this research is to see how supportive NASA should be of space-based solar energy.”

The study will not try to come up with a novel architecture for SBSP, but will instead look back at previous ideas for harnessing solar energy in space and then transporting it to the ground for transformation into electricity. These revised systems will be contrasted to terrestrial power systems in order to determine policy and implementation problems.

It will also consider the cost of such systems, which have historically been a major impediment in studies dating all the way back to the 1970s. “It’ll be a lot of money,” he said, “but money isn’t the main factor.¬† That would be OK if the number is enormous and astounding.

According to Joseph, advancements in a number of technical areas offer the agency grounds to reconsider SBSP’s viability. “The monster in the room is the expense of launching a product, and launching a product has never been easier.” “That dramatically shifts our perspective,” he explained. Thermal systems, electronics, materials, and solar panels are some of the other sectors that have improved.

According to him, NASA has talked about the investigation with the US Space Force as well as other “technical agencies.” There are presently no plans to solicit public input via a formal information request or another mechanism, although he did not exclude¬†doing so in the future. The plan is to complete the research and deliver it in September at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in SBSP, including a workshop held by the European Space Agency in December, which Joseph said prompted NASA to explore conducting its research. Last year, the British government categorized SBSP alongside nuclear, wind, as well as other energy systems as a technology it was looking into.

The need for energy sources that can attain “net-zero” carbon emissions in order to combat climate change is driving much of this attention. “I believe it’s among the more promising items we could do from a space standpoint to aid in the planet’s survival.” During a subsequent session on SBSP at the conference, Karen Jones of The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy noted, “We have to get to 2050 net-zero.”

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