World-first space solar farm successfully prototyped

Researchers have successfully developed and demonstrated the world’s first prototype of a 360º beam steering technology, which could pave the way to a constant supply of energy from space.

Jaltek/Space Solar

The project’s aim is to power over a million homes by the 2030s, with a mile-wide complex of mirrors and solar panels orbiting 22,000 miles above the planet.

According to the consortium of researchers, solar panels capture 13 times more energy in space than on Earth because the light intensity is higher and there's no atmosphere, despite clouds or nightfall.

Even though some energy would be lost by the time it is beamed back to Earth and connected to the electricity grid, the researchers said that it would still far outstrip solar generation on the ground.

Currently, nuclear energy and gas turbines provide the baseload for the grid but produce radioactive waste or carbon dioxide respectively. Space-based solar power is expected to provide baseload power but at a cost similar to intermittent renewables, as well as produce power constantly.

The researchers successfully developed the prototype to demonstrate the technology on Earth in March, 2024. The technology was demonstrated at Queen's University Belfast (QUB), with a wireless beam successfully ‘steered’ across a lab to turn on a light.

The consortium was made up of a team led by David Homfray, Mike Hontoir and Anja Frey of Space Solar – an Oxfordshire-based company who developed the technology – and also included Neil Buchanan of QUB, Debbie Fellows of Wave RF, Ian cash of International Electric Company and Jaltek – a Luton-based electronics design and manufacturing company.

In a statement, Jaltek’s technical director, Chris Day, said: “We were involved in the design of the prototype from concept to final delivery and successful demonstration. Our role included consultation from the initial concept, hardware development, PCB layout, PCB fabrication, materials procurement and PCB assembly.

“Working on Harrier has been so rewarding. We got to work with so many talented people, use pioneering technology and produce a groundbreaking application. We’re excited to progress this all the way.”

David Homfray, Space Solar’s CTO, added: “I set the team such a short time frame to do this and they not only succeeded but surpassed all our expectations.

“We have a tight understanding of what the product looks like with some of the most detailed design work done in the world. Alongside this real world demonstration we have the tools to deliver in time for net zero and provide energy equity.”

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