Virtus Solis is a funded startup working to develop space based solar power. They would leverage the low cost launch of the SpaceX Starship and modular satellites to enable power to be beamed from space at lower cost than coal or natural gas power. They have an in orbit demo planned for 2027 to beam some power from orbit to the ground. They are working with Orbital Composites on this effort.
Twenty five thousand 1-kilowatt solar power modules would be launched in each reusable SpaceX Starship launch. They would be assembled in space like legos. The orbit for each array would provide power for about 12 hours of a day. Two arrays would provide 7X24 hour power.
Virtus Solis has made components and tested them on the ground up to about 200 meters of power beaming. The 2027 work will show their capability to beam from orbit.
Today, the per kilogram cost of a Falcon 9 launch is $1520. Starship’s larger size would allow it to drop that down by 40% to $970 on day 1 (assuming the total cost of launch for both remains at $100 million). SpaceX Super Heavy Starship, with improved Raptor engines, could launch 300 tons in expendable mode or 180 tons in reusable mode. The expendable Starship would be launching for about $330 per kilogram. A fully reusable Starship that could be flow 20 times (like a Falcon 9 booster) would bring the cost down to about $33 per kilogram. The reusable SpaceX super heavy starship will make the launch of a hundred thousand of these modular satellites affordable for a 200 MW system and then the 8000 MW system. The economics are shown in the table below.
– Each 1.65 meter satellite delivers 1 kilowatt (kW) of power to ground.
– Arrays of satellites scale from 100 MW to multi-GW level.
– Highly elliptical Molniya orbit constellation keeps one or more arrays in line of sight of ground stations 100% of the time.
– 10 GHz microwaves transmit energy to ground rectennas.
Space-based solar power essentially consists of three elements:
* collecting solar energy in space with reflectors or inflatable mirrors onto solar cells or heaters for thermal systems
* wireless power transmission to Earth via microwave or laser
* receiving power on Earth via a rectenna, a microwave antenna
There is about 50 megawatts of solar power deployed in space right now. However, the power is being used in space and is not being transmitted back to the Earth. The 4500+ SpaceX Starlink satellites with version 1.5 starlink have about 7+ kilowatt hours of solar panels and the 1000+ version 2 mini satellites with about 20-30 kilowatts of power.
SOLARIS is a space-based solar power (SBSP) proposal of the European Space Agency (ESA). The proposal calls for an in-orbit demonstration in approximately 2030, the first operational station in geostationary orbit by 2040 with subsequent stations added afterwards. Each modular solar panel would be almost one 1km wide, with ground receiving antennas about 6km wide each, generating up to a petawatt of power. In preparation for the 2022 three-year study request, ESA separately commissioned consulting firms Frazer-Nash (UK) and Roland Berger (Germany) assess the potential of the scheme to support the European policy goal of a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. The Frazer-Nash study estimated that the net present value of a European SBSP system from 2022 to 2070 would range between 149 billion and 262 billion euros ($150–264 billion). A central case of 54 gigawatt-class SBSP satellites would produce 601 billion euros in benefits in that period, primarily from avoided costs of producing energy terrestrially along with its carbon dioxide emissions, with 418 billion euros in costs to develop and operate the SBSP system. The Roland Berger study concluded that a single SBSP satellite, based on an existing design, could cost as little as 8.1 billion euros to build and 7.5 billion euros to operate for 30 years, assuming “substantial advances” in key technologies. In a worst-case scenario without those advances, the same design would cost 33.4 billion euros to build and 31.1 billion euros to operate. Despite the uncertainty, it concluded SBSP has strong potential to become a competitive renewable technology. The two ESA proposals are in the table above.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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