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Solar Power From Space No Longer Pie in The Sky

Solar farms in space are edging closer to reality as tumbling costs of rocket launches are making it cheaper to blast infrastructure into orbit. Not just that, in June this year a Caltech team celebrated the world's first space-based wireless power transmission - the first time detectable levels of power have been beamed down to Earth.

Illustration of ESA's Solaris solar space project
Credit: ESA

Solar arrays in orbit enjoy cloud-free skies and 24/7 access to the sun’s rays. Each one could generate energy equivalent to a nuclear power station, with electricity beamed back to Earth as microwaves.

So, the technology exists and has been proven. Now, astronaut Tim Peake has bought the idea to the fore by backing the concept in a talk at the Energy Tech Summit last week.

“It boils down to hard numbers at the end of the day,” said Major Peake. “Launching thousands of tonnes of hardware into low Earth orbit is becoming absolutely viable.”

Peake explained that rockets built by Elon Musk’s aerospace outfit SpaceX had almost halved the per-kilo cost of sending cargo into orbit from $2,700 to $1,500. The company's Starship rocket, almost ready for deployment, would bring it down to the remarkably low price of $300. The European Space Agency estimates space-based solar power becomes viable when cargo can be launched for $1,000 per kilo or less so, as and when Musk's Starship is blasting off safely, the price threshold will be comfortably breached.

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