We often wonder why the great nations of the world are trying to go into space. If some say that it is in the nature of Man to explore where no one has ever set foot, this is not the only answer.
Indeed, space research is profitable. If it is not economically speaking (at least not directly), it makes it possible to develop dozens of technologies which, years later, will find their place on Earth. If the Apollo missions hadn’t been there, we might never have had shoes with velcro, or toasters.
Space solar energy: the miracle solution?
But while space expeditions are gaining momentum, several government agencies are seeking to “credibility” of these overpriced missions, which are most often financed by the taxpayer. As far as Europe is concerned, the ESA lives on contributions from member countries, so it must have a certain popularity rating to be subsidized.
So ESA got to work. This week, the space agency has just made its conclusions concerning the possibility of producing energy in space. According to Josef Aschbacher, the big boss of the ESA, it is one of the best solutions to “solve one of the most pressing problems for the populations on Earth of this generation”.
Because ESA’s plans are simple. The European Space Agency wants to send tons and tons of solar panels into orbit. The latter will then transform their electric current into microwaves which will be captured on Earth by special antennas.
25% of European electricity before 2050
The great advantage of such a system is that it gets rid of the two biggest black spots of solar energy: the night and the clouds. According to British and German reports commissioned by the ESA, Europe today consumes 3,000 TWh of electricity per year.
With the installation of a substantial infrastructure in space, Europe could supply itself with 25% of space electricity. Figures which are nevertheless not attractive enough to launch a multi-billion dollar construction plan. Because the construction site is titanic.
To achieve its ends, Europe plans to send dozens of megasatellites into geostationary orbit around Europe (36,000 kilometers high). These satellites would be 10 times heavier than the ISS and will therefore be a real headache to send into space.
Taking into account current launchers like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the Frazer-Nash agency, which produced one of the two reports, estimates that it would take 4 to 6 years for a single satellite to reach orbit. . In order to make this solar energy system operational before 2050, the Franco-British company explains that it will be necessary to multiply by 200 our space launch capacities.
Space solar energy: not everyone is seduced
The bet of space solar energy is therefore far from being won, especially since this technology does not enjoy consensus. Among the most famous detractors, Elon Musk. The SpaceX boss himself has spoken out on the subject several times, saying it was “the dumbest idea he’s ever seen”.
Another voice regularly evokes the subject, it is that of the physicist Casey Handmer. For him, space solar energy is not even profitable. Launches cost far too much, pollute enormously, so there would be no interest in sending solar panels into space.
“Transmission losses, thermal losses, logistics costs…” so many reasons to privilege the installation of solar panels on its roof or in its garden assures Handmer who cannot find the economic and energy interest of this technology “ideologically attractive”.