Thales Alenia Space has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to conduct a feasibility study on the SOLARIS project to determine whether it is possible to apply solar panels on satellites for the production of clean energy from space, exploiting solar energy, in order to meet growing needs on Earth.
Europe has set itself to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This statement is drawn up in the European Climate Law, which also sets an intermediate target of a 55% reduction by 2030. The main consequence is that the European energy industry must rely on easily accessible, renewable energy sources and solar energy appears to be one of the most promising solutions to meet this need.
Siamo stati scelti dall'@esa per studiare la fattibilità di Solaris, progetto con cui l'Europa punta a eliminare l'uso di petrolio, gas e combustibili solidi nel settore energetico, sfruttando pannelli solari installati su satelliti.https://t.co/B8EFkxCdUx #sustainability #space pic.twitter.com/0QCBqXWBb9— Thales Alenia Space (@Thales_Alenia_S) October 3, 2023
Solar energy will be used as a complement and not a substitute for renewable energy sources processed on Earth, as solar energy from space is available 24/7, thus ensuring continuity of electricity supply. The first in-orbit testing is expected to happen in 2030, but the system should become operational within twenty years.
If the project proves to be successful, by 2030 Solaris could start generating solar energy which could represent 10-15% of the total energy that will be used in Europe, contributing to the objective of the EU to reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to zero by 2050.
The main idea is that solar power satellites in geostationary orbit would continuously capture sunlight and convert it into low-power density microwaves, which would be instantly transmitted to receiver stations on Earth 24/7. The physics behind this concept necessitates the development of large satellites (spanning several kilometers) as well as correspondingly collecting “rectennas” on the Earth’s surface.
Additional research needs to be conducted to confirm the harmless impact of low-power microwaves on human, animal, and planet health and assess their compatibility with aircraft, boats, and other satellites.
“Space solar offers novel characteristics such as baseload power that actually serves to complement rather than compete with intermittent sources like ground solar and wind. In this sense, they could offer an alternative option to nuclear power in the future – where studies show that the space-based solution ends up being surprisingly competitive.”
— Sanjay Vijendran, Team Leader at ESA for the SOLARIS initiative on Space-based Solar Power and Mars Exploration Strategy
About Thales Alenia Space
Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%). Together with Telespazio, it constitutes the strategic partnership named “Space Alliance”, which offers a wide range of services in the space sector.
Thales Alenia Space provides economical solutions in the areas of telecommunications and navigation, Earth observation, environmental sustainability, science, and orbital infrastructure. Both private and government industries confide in Thales Alenia Space to design satellite systems that can provide for precise connection and positioning, monitoring of our planet, and discovery of our Solar System.