NASA OTPS Study Sheds Light on Space-Based Solar Power Prospects for 2050
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jan 12, 2024
In a recent development, NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) has released a comprehensive report titled “Space-Based Solar Power,” providing pivotal insights into the potential and challenges of harnessing solar power in space. This emerging field of research holds the promise of supplementing Earth’s energy needs by collecting solar energy in space and wirelessly transmitting it back to the planet.
Countries across the globe are increasingly focusing on space-based solar power (SBSP) as part of their commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The OTPS report plays a crucial role in informing NASA’s approach towards supporting this innovative energy solution. “This analysis compares the lifecycle cost of two conceptual space-based solar power systems versus their potential for net emissions reductions,” stated Charity Weeden, who leads NASA OTPS. Her words underscore the need to balance the technological possibilities with practical economic considerations.
The concept of SBSP, which aims to utilize the uninterrupted solar radiation available in space, faces several technological hurdles before it becomes a viable energy source. The report highlights the need for advancements in several areas, including the assembly and maintenance of large systems in orbit, the development of autonomous operational capabilities, and efficient methods for power beaming back to Earth. These systems might operate in geostationary orbits, posing additional challenges beyond those faced by satellites in lower Earth orbits.
The feasibility of SBSP also hinges on the significant reduction of launch and manufacturing costs. The report underscores that deploying such a system by 2050 would involve multiple sustained missions to transport the necessary infrastructure into space. Although the initial costs of SBSP are projected to be higher than terrestrial sustainable energy alternatives, there is potential for cost reduction if current capability gaps are effectively addressed.
NASA’s existing projects, focusing on autonomous systems, wireless power beaming, and in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing, are likely to contribute indirectly to the advancement of SBSP technologies. The OTPS report highlights these indirect benefits, showcasing NASA’s ongoing commitment to exploring and developing forward-thinking technologies.
The report also suggests that further analysis of SBSP might be necessary, especially considering potential applications on the moon. As technology progresses and the capability gaps narrow, such evaluations could become increasingly relevant.
In conclusion, NASA’s OTPS report offers a balanced view of the prospects and challenges of space-based solar power. It provides a foundation for understanding the technological, policy, and economic implications crucial for advancing this field. As countries and organizations worldwide strive towards sustainable energy solutions, the insights from this report will be invaluable in shaping future research and development efforts in space-based solar power.
The report and other OTPS documents advising NASA on technology, policy, and strategy issues are available on the office’s webpage.