Orbiting solar power satellites technically feasible

Harvesting the sun’s energy from space could provide a cost-effective way to meet global power needs in as little as 30 years, according to an international scientific group.

The Paris-based International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) released a report in November stating that solar power satellites (SPS) capable of collecting solar energy and beaming it to Earth would be “technically feasible” within a decade or two, based on technologies now in the laboratory.

The report was made public at a landmark Heads of Space Agencies Summit in Washington, US, which gathered 30 heads of space agencies along with more than 500 academicians, world leaders and experts.

The economics of SPS can only be determined by means of international end-to-end systems studies, focused technology maturation and systems-level demonstrations, the study states. Government pump-priming would likely be needed to get the concept to market. Private-sector funding is unlikely to proceed alone because of the “economic uncertainties” of the development and demonstration phases and the time lags, the study suggests.

During the past 40 years, various studies have been performed of the concept of space solar power to harvest sunlight in space and deliver green energy via wireless power transmission to markets on Earth. The first international assessment of space solar power was conducted by a study group under the IAA between 2008-2010.

The 248-page report has been billed as the first broadly based international assessment of potential paths to collecting solar energy in space and delivering it to markets on Earth via wireless power transmission.

The Vancouver Sun reports that John Mankins, a 25-year NASA veteran and the US space agency’s former head of concepts, and his company have received $100,000 from NASA to explore the project.