Tim Peake: Solar Farms in Space -- Viable and Vital

Sep 18, 2023 12:19 PM ET
  • Astronaut Tim Peake backs space-based solar farms, with SpaceX rockets bringing costs down to $300 per kilo. ESA's Solaris programme looks to launch solar panels into space, with UK funding to create energy equivalent to a large power station. However, the technology is still years away from solving any energy challenges.
Tim Peake: Solar Farms in Space -- Viable and Vital

Astronaut Tim Peake has backed the idea of space-based solar farms, saying that the falling cost of launching heavy cargoes into orbit means the concept is becoming viable. SpaceX rockets, such as the Falcon Heavy and upcoming Starship, can reduce the cost to as little as $300 per kilo, making the idea even more attractive. The European Space Agency (ESA) is developing the Solaris programme to launch solar panels into space, which could be used to build a solar farm and beam energy down to Earth. The UK has also provided funding for such projects and a government-commissioned report said space-based solar farms had the potential to provide energy equivalent to a large power station. However, the technology will take many years to develop and is unlikely to solve any of the world’s urgent energy challenges.

Is Space-Based Solar Farms Viable?

  • Even with reduced launch costs via SpaceX rockets, the cost of deploying and maintaining a space-based solar farm will remain high for the foreseeable future.
  • The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been exploring the idea, but has so far found it to be too complex and risky.
  • The space environment poses unique challenges for such a project, including extreme temperatures, radiation and the need for fault-tolerant designs.
  • It has also been suggested that solar panels could be deployed around the Moon, in an area known as ‘Lunar Lagrange’, to provide energy for a future lunar base.
  • The idea of space-based solar farms has been met with some skepticism, as the energy generated would be too dispersed to be economically viable.
  • The international community would also need to agree on how to regulate the use of such a technology in order to prevent conflicts or other disruptions.

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