Beaming power from Space: Seattle’s Solar Satellite

Beaming power from Space: Seattle’s Solar Satellite

Extreme weather conditions and rising global temperatures are leading researchers to reconsider unconventional solutions such as Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), as envisioned by scientists since the 1960s. This would be the perfect solution to climate change because solar power captured in outer space would not be vulnerable to poor weather, have zero greenhouse gas emissions and be unaffected by day and night cycles, unlike 23% of current incoming solar energy.

This untapped potential for Space-Based Solar Power was revealed when Telstar 1 (the world’s first active communication satellite) was used to beam scenes from Expo 1962 Seattle and transmit the first intercontinental television broadcast. The sphere satellite was powered by 3,600 solar cells and weighed over 77 kilos. It was a joint project by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the British and French governments, which broadcasted a panoramic view of the striking Space Needle and other interesting sights and sounds from the Expo.

The United States Sciences Pavilion, from where the first satellite TV images were broadcast by Telstar

The successful launch of the solar-powered Telstar satellite marked the beginning of the modern media era by transmitting the first live television signal and telephone call through space. It also inspired scientists to consider more innovative ways to produce clean power using solar panels in space, which could be beamed down to Earth to provide a constant supply of energy. The futuristic idea first illustrated at Expo 1962 Seattle, could be the long-awaited solution to global energy challenges.

By 1968, Czech-born engineer and physicist Peter Glaser developed the concept for a satellite in equatorial geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) that would use solar cells from space to wirelessly transmit energy to Earth using microwave power transmission technology. He was awarded the patent for his invention in 1973, and partnered with NASA to carry out further studies on Solar Power Satellites (SPSs). Unfortunately, none of the proposals and designs of such satellites have been used till date.

Currently, various research agencies and scientists across the world are taking another look at SBSP, convinced that the clean and uninterrupted energy from space could become a reality in the near future. Inspired by the memorable demonstration of the potential for SBSP from Expo 1962 Seattle and Glaser’s concept, active research and development is underway across the globe. Researchers at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and scientists in India and the United States, including Dr. Paul Jaffe of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, are working to ensure that this concept is available within the next few years, because they believe that solar energy from space could revolutionise future energy production and use.

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