Amanda Jane Hughes, Lecturer, Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering at University of Liverpool Stefania, and Soldini Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at University of Liverpool, write: A space-based solar power station could orbit to face the Sun 24 hours a day. The Earth’s atmosphere also absorbs and reflects some of the Sun’s light, so solar cells above the atmosphere will receive more sunlight and produce more energy. But one of the key challenges to overcome is how to assemble, launch and deploy such large structures. A single solar power station may have to be as much as 10 kilometres squared in area — equivalent to 1,400 football pitches. Using lightweight materials will also be critical, as the biggest expense will be the cost of launching the station into space on a rocket. One proposed solution is to develop a swarm of thousands of smaller satellites that will come together and configure to form a single, large solar generator. In 2017, researchers at the California Institute of Technology outlined designs for a modular power station, consisting of thousands of ultralight solar cell tiles. They also demonstrated a prototype tile weighing just 280 grams per square metre, similar to the weight of card.
Recently, developments in manufacturing, such as 3D printing, are also being looked at for this application. At the University of Liverpool, we are exploring new manufacturing techniques for printing ultralight solar cells on to solar sails. A solar sail is a foldable, lightweight and highly reflective membrane capable of harnessing the effect of the Sun’s radiation pressure to propel a spacecraft forward without fuel. We are exploring how to embed solar cells on solar sail structures to create large, fuel-free solar power stations. These methods would enable us to construct the power stations in space. Indeed, it could one day be possible to manufacture and deploy units in space from the International Space Station or the future lunar gateway station that will orbit the Moon. Such devices could in fact help provide power on the Moon. The possibilities don’t end there. While we are currently reliant on materials from Earth to build power stations, scientists are also considering using resources from space for manufacturing, such as materials found on the Moon.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.