Space-Based Solar Power Enablers
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The Catapult has secured almost £500k in funding from the UK Space Agency to kick-start research and development into a future Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) system, which will ultimately create a new, fully renewable baseload energy technology.
SBSP is an exciting and hugely promising technology field. The fundamental concept involves capturing energy from sunlight on a spacecraft in Earth’s orbit, converting this to microwaves, and beaming it to a rectenna on Earth to convert back to electricity.
The Satellite Applications Catapult has played a leading role in bringing the UK together around the SBSP concept as co-chair of the Space Energy Initiative (SEI). Enthusiasm started following the BEIS-commissioned Frazer-Nash Consultancy report. Subsequent studies by both ESA and NASA all deemed SBSP to be technically and economically feasible, with the CASSIOPeiA concept from the British company IECL emerging as the most promising architecture.
This project, named ‘SBSP Enablers’, which runs until March 2023, will complete four important pieces of enabling work for SBSP:
- Wireless power transmission from space – it will investigate how to deliver a high-altitude demonstration of wireless power transmission and simulate the power density effects of SBSP on satellites and aircraft.
- Standard tooling interface development for in-orbit servicing and manufacturing – it will research the tools needed for the manipulation, servicing, and assembly of modular structures in space and develop a standardised interface to enable rapid testing.
- Programme assurance – it will look at best practice digital engineering processes for complex energy programmes, identify existing standards and gaps for SBSP relevant technologies, and identify technical spacecraft requirements to address regulatory compliance throughout the programme.
- Infrastructure and security – it will research security aspects of SBSP and look at how to ensure its safety for wildlife.
BENEFITS TO THE UK
The SBSP Enablers project will engage the UK supply chain through different projects to ensure that the UK is in the best position to lead on SBSP globally. Learnings can be fed back to the supply chain through the Space Energy Initiative, putting companies in a good position to bid for work from any future UK programme, through funded UK SBSP businesses, or ESA SOLARIS work packages (expected to be up to £60 million in the first 2-3 years). By publishing results of the SBSP Enablers work publicly, the UK will be at the leading edge of SBSP development.
The project features short, focused programmes of work, to address the enablers head on and understand the challenges to come. ESA has identified similar enabling requirements and intends to explore these over the next 2-3 years in its SOLARIS programme. Through the proposed effort of the SBSP Enablers programme, the UK SBSP effort will receive a boost, be ahead of the international playing field and demonstrate its leadership.
The intention is to publish the findings from each element for the benefit of the SBSP community.
Sam Adlen, Chief Strategy Officer at the Satellite Applications Catapult:
“This project is a vital first step in the development of a viable SBSP solution. By funding SBSP, the UK Space Agency is demonstrating its commitment to this important future energy technology and that gives us a vital boost as we kick-start this work.
The funding allows us to deliver many of the critical enabling elements to ensure we get the whole solution, from technology to environmental and regulatory aspects, right the first time. As the world races to achieve net-zero, momentum is building globally and nations looking for future energy security are closely watching the UK’s progress.”
Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems Lead at the UK Space Agency:
“Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) has the exciting potential to provide sustainable energy, helping meet the government’s net-zero target and provide energy security. We’re supporting Space-Based Solar Power at different stages to accelerate the technology developments. This funding will help the Satellite Applications Catapult investigate programme enablers and accelerators for the development of new sustainable energy technology from space.”
The total project value is £620k, funded by a £465k grant from the UK Space Agency and a further contribution from the Satellite Applications Catapult of £155k.
 ‘Space-Based Solar Power as a Contributor to Net Zero: De-risking the pathway to Net Zero’, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, 2021. [Online].
 ‘ESA -SOLARIS -Cost vs. benefits studies’ (accessed Sep. 07, 2022).
 N. Joseph and J. M. Sotudeh, ‘Space Based Solar Power: Updates to Economic Feasibility Studies’, presented at the 73rd International Astronautical Congress, Paris, France, Sep. 2022.