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Key technology for space-based solar power used to produce hydrogen

Professional Engineering

An artist's impression of a space-based solar power system. Such systems would use invisible microwaves to transmit energy (Credit: Airbus)
An artist's impression of a space-based solar power system. Such systems would use invisible microwaves to transmit energy (Credit: Airbus)

A technology with an important role in future space-based solar power (SBSP) systems has been used to produce green hydrogen.

The demonstration of wireless power transmission at the Airbus X-Works Innovation Factory in Munich was also used to light up a model city, and to cool a non-alcoholic beer in a connected fridge, before it was served to the watching audience.

The work was highlighted today (9 November) by the European Space Agency (ESA), which plans to investigate key SBSP technologies through its Solaris Initiative.

Decision-makers from business and government watched the demonstration as microwave beaming transmitted sustainably produced energy between two points representing space and Earth, over a distance of 36m.

In a working version of an SBSP system, satellites in geostationary orbit would constantly harvest sunlight, converting it to low-power density microwaves to safely beam down to receiver stations on Earth. The satellites would have to be very large, measuring several kilometres across to generate the equivalent power of a typical nuclear power station. The same would be true for the collecting ‘rectennas’ on Earth.

“Achieving this vision would require technical advancements in areas such as in-space manufacturing and robotic assembly, low-cost high-efficiency photovoltaics, high-power electronics and radio frequency beam forming,” an ESA announcement said. “Further research to confirm benign effects of low-power microwaves on human and animal health, and compatibility with aircraft and satellites, would also be undertaken.”

The Solaris project – being proposed to Europe’s space ministers later this month – would research those technologies, to allow member states an informed decision on future implementation, which could help Europe to reach ‘net zero’ by mid-century.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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