Caltech’s space solar project prepares for its first orbital prototype

Caltech’s wildly bold space solar project, buoyed by a large hundred-million-dollar donation, is making ready to launch its first prototypes into orbit. These cutting-edge ultralight constructions will accumulate, convert and wirelessly ship vitality.

It’s apparent why you’d wish to harvest solar vitality in space: 24-hour entry to nearly limitless solar vitality with out a lot as an environment in the way in which, not to mention climate or obstructions. The vitality potential in space is a few eight instances higher per sq. meter of solar panel than right here on Earth. The drawback has all the time been the way you’d do it – and certainly, how a lot it’s going to value. The prices concerned in launching, assembling and sustaining tools in space are astronomical. The scale of a worthwhile space solar set up is mind-boggling, and unprecedented issues current monumental hurdles at each step of the journey.

Undeterred, and certainly energized by the problem, a staff at Caltech has been engaged on the Space Solar Power Project for almost a decade now. It launched with an unbelievable endowment of greater than US$100 million from Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren again in 2013 – a donation that has only recently been disclosed – and was boosted to the tune of US$17.5 million by Northrop Grumman in 2015.

Professors Sergio Pellegrino, Harry Atwater, and Ali Hajimiri lead the three key groups engaged on the space solar project

Steve Babuljak for Caltech

The project has been continuing in basically three streams. One group has been engaged on insanely light-weight, high-efficiency photovoltaic cells with power-to-weight ratios some 50-100 instances larger than even the solar panels at present used on the ISS and trendy satellites.

A second staff is concentrated on creating ultra-lightweight, miniature, low-cost tools to transform DC energy from the solar panels into radio frequency energy, then beam it all the way down to Earth, utilizing section manipulation to electronically steer the beam towards receiver arrays down on the floor.

These two groups have mixed their progress into purposeful prototypes of a “tile” – about 10 cm (3.9 in) sq., combining solar vitality seize, conversion to RF and wi-fi transmission. These extremely built-in, very versatile tiles weigh lower than a tenth of an oz (lower than 2.8 g) every, and so they’re designed to fold all the way down to a configuration with basically zero wasted space, to be put right into a launch car and despatched into orbit, the place they will unfold themselves.

You can see a prototype tile harvesting gentle and transmitting vitality to a receiver within the video under.

MayTile demo

Thus, all the space solar array has been conceived of as an ultra-modular meeting. The tiles are designed to be included into 2-m-wide (6.6-ft) strips measuring as much as 60 m (197 ft) in size. These strips are included into modules measuring round 60 x 60 m (197 x 197 ft).

And thus a 3rd group has been engaged on build a full-size array combining 1000’s of tiles into modules, and 1000’s of modules right into a colossal solar harvesting and transmission array with an space round 9 sq km (3.5 sq miles). This group will get the problem of making ultra-lightweight, ultra-thin space constructions for these modules that fold down extremely tightly, after which unfurl autonomously into large modules and maintain their form and position because the array whizzes by space like a flying carpet.

This staff has already completed some superb work; impressed by Japanese origami and kirigami, they’ve designed and prototyped coiling, folding, self-assembling constructions – together with coilable joints – weighing simply 150 grams per sq m (0.45 oz per sq ft). Some of those could be seen within the video under.

Space Solar Power Project

Then there comes the issue of angling its solar panels towards the solar as a lot and as passively as attainable, whereas nonetheless electronically aiming its transmitters at large receiver stations on the Earth under. And there comes the problem of precisely which orbit to take – a geosynchronous orbit always pointed at a single receiver on the Earth under, or a decrease, cheaper orbit that might require a number of solar harvesters and a number of Earth-bound receivers.

The monetary maths at this stage would seem to favor the latter; 5 solar arrays in a medium Earth orbit, decked out with double-sided solar harvesters and single-sided transmitters would seem to have the sting when it comes to Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) although such a system would require 39 space launches versus simply 13 for a single-array geosynchronous system – with many assumptions made, in fact. But the price of space solar vitality would nonetheless be within the vary of US$1-2 per kWh – a troublesome promote provided that US electrical energy at present retails for lower than US$0.17/kWh on common.

The stage of problem right here can most likely finest be described as comically ridiculous. And but, below the management of Caltech Professors Sergio Pellegrino, Harry Atwater and Ali Hajimiri, the Space Solar Power Project staff continues to chip away on the drawback. This pioneering work has resulted in dozens upon dozens of printed analysis papers.

Tiles will assemble into strips, strips will assemble into spacecraft
Tiles will assemble into strips, strips will assemble into spacecraft modules, and the ultimate large array will include many such spacecraft flying in live performance


In December this year, it’s going to additionally end in space-based prototype testing, a milestone reflecting the unbelievable funds this staff will get to work with. It’s unclear precisely how far the money will go on this project, however even $120 million is unlikely to make a lot of a dent within the towering stack of spondoolies wanted to get a full-size space solar rig up and operating.

New Zealand company Emrod made the argument to us earlier this month that it might be less expensive to build a terrestrial renewable vitality harvesting community, and easily beam the vitality round through satellite tv for pc. But regardless of the case, the sheer audacity of the Space Solar Power Project, in addition to the elemental advances it is making in a number of completely different areas, make it a project of nice significance.

Enjoy a presentation on this groundbreaking work under.

Space Solar Power: A New Beginning – Sergio Pellegrino – 10/31/2018

Source: Caltech

Back to top button