US can’t afford to dawdle on investing in space-based solar power – The Hill
Is a limitless source of green energy within reach? With unrelenting global reliance on fossil fuels, a worsening climate, and growing dependency on (often-unreliable) renewables, the world desperately needs a solution.
Scientists in the U.S. appeared to come close to one with a recent breakthrough in fusion technology. Unfortunately, while a positive technological advancement, several decades of development are still necessary before fusion becomes a commercially viable energy alternative. Yet there may be another way to alleviate our energy dilemma — and soon. The answer lies in space-based solar power (SSP).
The premise is simple. Traditional terrestrial solar power is a suboptimal source of energy because it is inhibited by the Earth’s atmosphere and unavailable at nighttime. By contrast, by placing large solar energy collecting satellites in space and transmitting energy via microwave beams down to rectifying antennas on Earth, it would be possible to obtain power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This may sound like science fiction, but the idea has been around for decades. SSP as a concept was first formally proposed way back in 1968. Fast forward more than half-a-century, and today most of the technology needed to accomplish this esoteric feat is readily available.
Domestically, the U.S. military is at the forefront of pioneering SSP component technology and developing a proof of concept. In April of 2022, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) conducted a successful terrestrial microwave power beaming test to demonstrate the feasibility of electrical energy transmission. The following month, the NRL launched the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module (PRAM) to test capturing sunlight and converting it to microwaves on board the secretive X-37B orbital space plane. Meanwhile, the Air Force Research Laboratory is investing in the Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project (SSPIDR), which will culminate in a demonstration of solar energy collection in space, conversion to microwave energy, and power beaming down to Earth in 2025.
The economic potential is enormous. A constellation of commercial SSP satellites could produce cost-competitive clean energy, serve as a complement to renewable sources, and help phase out fossil fuel use. All of which would lead to strengthened U.S. economic security.
American national security would benefit greatly as well. With satellites able to collect energy and beam it to anywhere on the globe, the U.S. military would be able to provide energy to forward operating bases and conflict zones without worrying about adversaries cutting off vulnerable energy supply lines. SSP could similarly power America’s drones to carry out persistent surveillance, since costly and time-consuming refueling would be rendered unnecessary.
Some in the private sector have begun to recognize SSP’s potential. For instance, a decade after it received a generous donation to support SSP initiatives, CalTech just launched a Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD) to evaluate multiple energy collection and transfer technologies. At least three U.S. startups are developing the tech as well, and one U.S. …….