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Europe's space agency reviewing space-based solar power

The technology has already powered a model city during a test in Germany.

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The European Space Agency is exploring the technology needed to beam solar power to Earth. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency.
The European Space Agency is exploring the technology needed to beam solar power to Earth. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency could be tapping the power of the sun by deploying satellites that could beam the energy back to Earth, its director general said Tuesday.

The ESA said it was investigating the technology necessary to deploy a space-based solar power system through an initiative dubbed Solaris. A demonstration project carried out in Germany used a microwave beam to transmit the energy necessary to power a model city, even cooling liquids suitable for consumption.

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Josef Aschbacher, the director general of the ESA, told the BBC this nascent technology could go a long way toward reducing the world's dependency on fossil fuels.

''If you can do it from space, and I'm saying if we could, because we are not there yet, this would be absolutely fantastic because it would solve a lot of problems," he was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

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ESA said that for a utility-scale system, satellites would need to draw on the sun's energy on a permanent basis and then convert that energy to microwaves that could be safely beamed at power stations on the Earth's surface.

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To do this, the agency estimates that both the satellites and the collecting antennas on Earth would need to be huge -- potentially on the order of a mile wide -- to capture the equivalent nuclear power from space-based solar.

Trying to harness solar power from space could be easier than doing so on Earth because satellites wouldn't have to worry about daylight hours and clouds are not an inhibiting factor. Innovations from private-sector space companies, meanwhile, are lowering the bar in terms of available technology, though the plans remain on the drawing board for now.

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"The idea of space-based solar power is no longer science fiction," Sanjay Vijendran, the scientist behind ESA's Solaris program, told the BBC. "The potential is there and we now need to really understand the technological path before a decision can be made to go ahead with trying to build something in space."

The ESA is already collaborating with the U.S. space agency, NASA, in the Sentinel-6 program, a satellite-based system tracking how climate change is impacting the world's oceans.

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