The U.K. government has decided to build a £16 billion ($20.8 billion) orbital solar power station.
The government has released its Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, which includes a section on space-based solar power. It will help the country achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The project is called the Space Energy Initiative (SEI), which aims to set up the first power station in space by 2035. A U.K. Member of Parliament (MP), Mark Garnier has also suggested that SpaceX might take the proposed solar satellite up to orbit.
The space-based solar power station will use a satellite with solar panels that will transmit energy down to Earth through high-frequency radio waves. On the ground, an antenna is used to convert those radio waves into electricity before it is sent to the grid.
An orbital solar power station could fly in a geostationary orbit which means it would receive sunlight 24 hours a day.
However, there are limitations to it. Firstly, several tests must be done to verify the safety of the technology. The main questions that need answering are how will such a high-frequency energy beam affect communications, air traffic control, and the well-being of nearby residents?
The cost and emissions of sending such a large station to orbit is also a potential obstacle for a project that’s aimed at lowering the cost of renewables and achieving climate goals. The Conservative MP, Mark Garnier recently said, “They (the satellites) are going to be in the magnitude of tens of launches in order to get these things into orbit, and you have got to get the assembly unit up there as well.”
“This is where SpaceX comes in, with its really big launch capacity. You want big launches that could heavy payloads up into low-Earth orbit,” Garnier, who is also chair of the advisory board of the SEI, continued.
SpaceX is lowering the cost of satellite launches with its reusable first-stage technology, and it soon aims to lower it even further with its fully reusable Starship launch vehicle. SEI aims to launch the first orbital demonstrator for a space-based solar power system by 2030.