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European Space Agency studying space-based solar power


Industry to look at options including reflecting sunlight to Earth and transmitting energy using lasers

The European Space Agency has commissioned studies into methods for collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it to Earth for terrestrial use.

Esa announced on 17 April that it had signed contracts with industry for two concept studies into options including reflecting sunlight down to Earth or using lasers to transmit collected energy.

Its hope is that collecting solar power in space will overcome shortfalls with collecting it on Earth, including the day-night cycle and unfavourable weather.

The contracts are part of a broader Esa programme, called Solaris, that is testing the feasibility of space-based solar power. They will feed into follow-up studies for a demonstrator mission and other tests.

“These contracts are for the first European concept studies of space-based solar power for more than 20 years, so today marks an important step,” said Sanjay Vijendran, Esa’s lead for Solaris.

Starting from nothing

Management consultancy Arthur D Little and Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between French defence electronics group Thales and Italy’s Leonardo, are leading the contracts.

According to Vijendran, their investigations are “starting from a blank sheet of paper to get an up-to-date design for what working solar power satellites could look like”.

The studies will be “sourcing promising ideas from everywhere we can, and leveraging the latest advancements in space and terrestrial technologies”, he said.  

Vijendran has previously suggested that space-based solar power could be competitive with nuclear power on an economic basis, which initiatives like Solaris are intended to prove.

A decision on whether to proceed with a space-based solar power programme is planned for 2025.