Space manufacturing startup Orbital Composites and space energy company Virtus Solis have announced a collaboration to bring space-based solar power even closer to reality. The two have announced a megawatt-scale space-based solar power station that can collect energy from the Sun and beam it down to Earth.
The two companies announced a memorandum of understanding via press release yesterday which will see Virtus develop core technologies like the power station’s electronics and antennas while Orbital will lend its in-space manufacturing expertise.
According to the release, Virtus successfully tested wireless microwave power transmission, in which derived solar power was beamed across 328 feet (100 meters). The company is now looking to scale up that technology for this upcoming space-faring power station. Orbital, meanwhile, has received funding from Space Force and the Navy in the form of six Small Business Innovation Research contracts to develop robotics for in-space manufacturing and service, according to SpaceNews.
According to a video published in March by Virtus, a satellite constellation operating in Molniya orbit, or a highly elliptical orbit, will beam the solar power to Earth. The companies will launch hexagonal-shaped satellites into space using reusable rockets, after which robots will snap the satellites together into a circular array that, when completed, will be anywhere from 0.3 to 1.9 miles, or 0.5 to 3 kilometers, wide. These arrays will then transmit power to ground stations 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in diameter and with the ability to provide power to 150,000 customers.
“This partnership is a significant step towards providing clean, low-cost energy to our planet and unlocking the potential of cislunar space,” said Virtus Solis CEO John Bucknell in a press release. “By combining our breakthrough technologies with Orbital Composites’ expertise, we aim to revolutionize space-based solar power and accelerate the transition to a sustainable energy future.” By cislunar space, Bucknell is referring to the space environment between the Earth and Moon.
Collecting solar power in space and beaming it down to planet Earth might seem like a farfetched idea, but researchers from the California Institute of Technology made a huge leap with the technology earlier this month. The researchers conducted a ground-breaking power transfer experiment using the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment, or MAPLE, which is a small prototype aboard the in-orbit Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) that launched this past January. The SSPD-1 collects solar energy, converts it to DC electricty, and transmits it using constructive and destructive interference. Using the orbiting technology, the researchers were able to light up LEDs located on the roof of Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory of Engineering on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena.
The ability to wirelessly transmit solar power from space has huge implications for renewable energy. This new partnership between Orbital and Virtus demonstrates that public and private interest in space-based solar power is certainly there. Japan also plans to start using space-based solar power by the mid-2030’s, with a Japanese research team is looking to pilot the technology in 2025 via a public-private partnership. Last year, researchers at Xidian University in China finished building a massive tower for space-based solar power experiments.