Solar Panels in Space: The Final Frontier for Alternative Fuels?

Solar Panels in Space: The Final Frontier for Alternative Fuels?

Michael Lowe
Published: 01/22/2010


(Advanced Comm. Tech Satellite/NASA)

According to the LA Times, Wal-Mart wrapped up solar panel projects in Paramount, Baldwin Park and San Bernardino earlier this month and has just completed the installation of over 5,300 solar panels in Apple Valley.

The new solar power field spans nearly 7 acres and is set to generate 1 megawatt of power, the amount needed to supply 175 homes.

However, as impressive as the mega-corporation may appear, EADS Astrium may soon one up them. Sure, solar panels here on Earth are great, but how about in space?

Europe’s largest space company (which apparently actually exist) is developing a cost-efficient satellite system to capture and transmit solar power while orbiting the Earth. However, this idea is nothing new to the scientific field.

The idea of a satellite solar power system (SSPS) has been around since 1968, about the time The Beatles released the White Album, Yale University announced its decision to accept women into its programs and the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl II.

In his 1968 paper, Peter E. Glaser wrote, “Whether or not the human species will continue to expand could depend on our ability to develop alternative energy sources.” With all the recent news surrounding alternative fuel, it’s clear our development (and maybe even our survival) depends on it.

Back then, Glaser concluded, “The developments required for such a system, or for other, competitive large-scale applications of solar-powered devices, are not far enough advanced to allow detailed cost-benefit analysis.” However, “the development of solar power may prove to be a logical outgrowth of achievements in space, and may help the world into an era in which an abundance of power could free man from his dependence on fire.”

Well, there’s no way I’m roasting a marshmallow over a solar panel, but Glaser’s idea has stuck throughout the decades eventually landing on Astrium's plate.

Utilizing space solar panels would be a clean, inexhaustible form of energy available every minute of every day and light in space would not be hindered by pollution, atmosphere or dust making the amounts of energy far greater than any on the Earth’s surface. That unadulterated solar energy would be transformed and transmitted via infrared laser back to Earth. (Just imagine the Romulan drill from Star Trek except instead of a massive fire beam destroying everything in its path, it's sending clean, alternative energy)

Astrium has tested the energy transmission successfully, but is now working to increase its efficiency on both the transmitting and receiving ends.

Astrium’s chief executive officer Francois Auque told BBC News, “Today we are not at an operational stage; it's just a test. In order to continue and eventually implement that research, Astrium is seeking investor and developmental partnerships.

The potential of these space solar panels may be a couple years away, but the idea of alternative, infinite (at least until the sun burns out in several odd billion years) energy is exciting.

And, if all else fails, we can just grab energy from our dogs via doggy solar panel vests