This open, online event, will offer the community the chance to discuss the results of the recent ESA Request for Information on the Solaris Research Activities, and to exchange further with ESA on the state-of-the-art, priorities & challenges of key research topics related to Space-based Solar Power.
Additionally it will offer the industrial community an opportunity to find out more about the intended implementation approach of the Solaris Technology Plan and to discuss any specific aspects of the recently published list of Potential Activities for the Space-based Solar Power Specific Area in GSTP Element 1.
Space-based solar power is an emerging technology for electricity generation that could provide a limitless source of continuous clean energy to help power our green future. Like terrestrial solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, it harnesses the power of sunlight and converts it into useable electricity. The difference is that it does this in space and delivers the energy to the ground in a continuous manner due to the 24/7/365 availability of sunlight in space which overcomes the intermittency of terrestrial renewables like wind and terrestrial solar which regularly cannot provide power when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. Currently however, despite the potential benefits of SBSP, relatively little research and development in this technology is being pursued internationally, compared to alternative green energy sources.
To fully assess the feasibility and credibility of SBSP, alongside conducting system-level studies and technology developments, it is necessary to understand the potential impact of SBSP on human health, the environment and ecosystems, and other technology and infrastructure. Adequate assessment of the magnitude and mitigation of these risks is required for an informed decision on the safe implementation of SBSP. The key research objective for SOLARIS is to address the following questions:
Can SBSP be implemented in a way that...
• ...is safe for both the public and for occupational interactions?
• ...has minimal negative impact on the ecosystem, i.e., fauna and flora?
• ...encounters no negative effects resulting from interaction with the atmosphere (inclusive of the ionosphere)?
• ...poses no significant risk of interference with other critical technology, and minimises risk imposed by external forces?
• ...has a net positive impact on the environment, when considering the entire life cycle of deployment in comparison to other energy sources?
These questions represent significant challenges to be considered when assessing the viability of SBSP as an energy source. While they will not be addressed in their entirety and with absolute certainty within a three-year programme of research activities, the activities proposed in the following sections will allow for an initial assessment that will aim to provide sufficient confidence that there are no showstoppers to the challenges being adequately addressed in a future development programme following further dedicated investments.
Governmental bodies will require detailed assessment of safety and potential impacts of SBSP systems, before endorsing further development towards application at scale. In addition, scientific data relating to safety and environmental considerations, if properly published and disseminated, could build public awareness and ease concerns relating to the possible hazards of SBSP as a new renewable energy option. Engagement from the outset of SOLARIS, with both governmental entities and the public would facilitate timely SBSP technology development, prototyping, and ultimately, acceptance and deployment.
The bulk of the investment of SOLARIS from 2023-2025 will be on targeted Technology Developments, intended to mature key technologies needed for the realisation of SBSP systems, and thus critical to make an informed decision in 2025 regarding the overall feasibility with all key technology areas at a high enough technology maturity level. Technology activities will be initiated from the start of the SOLARIS initiative (based on current understanding of technology needs from previous ESA and international studies) but also at later points in response to outputs from the system studies.
The SOLARIS technology activities can be grouped by the time available for their implementation:
Short-term technology developments, in relation to a first in-orbit demonstrator, intended for launch by 2030. The aim of these technology developments is to reach a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5, for the space and ground segments, prior to the decision of implementing the mission, therefore prior to entering phases B2/C/D for the demonstrator mission. The requested TRL is the minimum required for entering the Development Phase with controlled schedule and cost.
Medium-long term technology developments, to de-risk and help ESA understand by 2025 the technical and economic credibility of commercial-scale SBSP concepts, intended for deployment only in the 2030’s.