Strathclyde engineers developing space based solar power system
Engineers at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow are looking to build a space based solar energy system that could one day be capable of supplying enough clean energy to power entire towns and cities.
The researchers have already tested equipment in space that could provide a platform for solar panels to collect the energy and allow it to be transferred back to earth through microwaves or lasers. They are hoping the development will allow energy to be sent to remote areas in the world, providing power to disaster areas or outlying areas that are difficult to reach by traditional means.
Lead researcher Dr Massimiliano Vasile, of the university's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, commented: "Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions. In areas like the Sahara desert where quality solar power can be captured, it becomes very difficult to transport this energy to areas where it can be used. However, our research is focusing on how we can remove this obstacle and use space based solar power to target difficult to reach areas."
Dr Vasile continued: "By using either microwaves or lasers we would be able to beam the energy back down to earth, directly to specific areas. This would provide a reliable, quality source of energy and would remove the need for storing energy coming from renewable sources on ground as it would provide a constant delivery of solar energy.
According to Vasile, the aim is to put a large enough structure in space to generate enough electricity to power a large city. Last month, a team of science and engineering students at Strathclyde developed an innovative 'space web' experiment. which was carried on a rocket from the Arctic Circle to the edge of space. The experiment, known as Suaineadh, demonstrated to the researchers that larger structures could be built on top of a lightweight spinning web, paving the way for the next stage in the solar power project.
"The success of Suaineadh allows us to move forward with the next stage of our project, which involves looking at the reflectors needed to collect the solar power," noted Vasile. "The current project will test the deployment of an ultra light cellular structure that can change shape once deployed. The structure is made of cells that are self inflating in vacuum and can change their volume independently through nanopumps.
"The structure replicates the natural cellular structure that exists in all living things. The independent control of the cells would allow us to morph the structure into a solar concentrator to collect the sunlight and project it on solar arrays. The same structure can be used to build large space systems by assembling thousands of small individual units."
The project is part of a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts study led by Dr John Mankins of Artemis Innovation. The University of Strathclyde represents the European section of an international consortium involving American researchers and a Japanese team from the University of Kobe.
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