Credit: ESA

It looks like a sunny forecast for Europe’s Solaris project to investigate space-based solar power.

The European Space Agency’s recently concluded Ministerial Level meeting agreed to fund the Solaris project, one that scopes out the viability of developing, from 2025, a space-based solar power system.

Within ESA’s General Support Technology Program (GSTP) Element-1 is where funding for SOLARIS work resides. However, how much of the GSTP Element-1 budget each Member State foresees specifically for space-based solar power will be, reportedly, forthcoming in early December.

Credit: ESA

High-tech testing

Around the globe, numbers of high-tech tests of SPS-related hardware are underway.

Take for example the China Academy of Space Technology and Xidian University. On campus, a large ground recipient verification system has been built to enable next-generation microwave power wireless transmission technology and space-based solar power plant technology. The project uses a steel tower that’s over 245-feet (75 meters) high. The work is codenamed Zhuri (“chasing the Sun”).

Yang Hong, chief designer of China’s space station system with the China Academy of Space Technology.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Toss in for good measure is use of China’s nearly complete space station. It will provide in-orbit verification for key technologies related to space-based solar power stations. That’s the word from Yang Hong, chief designer of China’s space station.


Yang told China Central Television (CCTV) that space solar power stations are one of the directions of new green energy.

Hardware in space

In the United States, space-based solar energy technology has already been appraised in Earth orbit.

The recently landed U.S. Space Force X-37B robotic space plane – chalking up 908 days in orbit — carried among its payloads the U.S. Naval Laboratory’s (NRL) Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module Flight Experiment. It is comprised of “sandwich” modules that are more efficient for space solar power.

Artwork depicts X-37B in Earth orbit.
Credit: Boeing

There’s another U.S. endeavor in the offing to show-off hardware to beam energy to Earth.

Enter the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) project, a team effort involving Northrop Grumman and the NRL.

They recently conducted the first end-to-end demonstration of hardware for an in-space flight experiment dubbed Arachne.

Project Managers James Winter (Air Force Research Laboratory) and Tara Theret (Northrop Grumman) hold models of the photovoltaic and the radio frequency sides of the sandwich tile, while at the Linthicum, Maryland facility, to witness the conversion and beaming experiment. Courtesy photo/Northrop Grumman)

Anticipated to be launched in 2025, Arachne is to showcase more efficient energy generation, radio frequency forming and beaming.

Technological innovations

Tara Theret, program director at Northrop Grumman, said that the SSPIDR project was established to rapidly infuse space technological innovations in collecting solar energy to provide uninterrupted, assured, and logistically agile power to expeditionary forces.

“By removing costly and dangerous energy supply lines from the front lines, this technology has the potential to save money and save lives,” Theret told Inside Outer Space. “From a technology standpoint, space solar power beaming has the potential to provide energy anywhere on Earth at any time. This technology could make power available to remote locations that need medical and communications equipment.”

Depiction of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Arachne flight experiment on orbit.
Image credit: AFRL

Rearview mirror

SSPIDR is working “to make science fantasy into science reality,” Theret said.

The Northrop Grumman/AFRL team has made significant strides forward that have matured a concept “and taken it off paper and into the manufacturing and test environment,” Theret noted.

That work has led to successfully testing a pioneering “sandwich tile,” technology able to collect solar energy, convert it to radio frequency (RF) energy, and transmit it to a ground-based rectenna in a lab environment.

Theret added that tangible progress is being made in panel assembly to prepare for on-orbit flight demonstration. “And we are continuing to work towards AFRL’s planned 2025 on-orbit demonstration mission.”

Bolstered by the work on SSPIDR, “the toughest technical milestones are now in the rearview mirror as we have successfully demonstrated solar energy to wireless power beaming and wireless controlled beam steering through our two most recent demonstrations,” Theret concluded.

Go to this informative video from Northrop Grumman – “From Science Fiction to Reality with Space Solar Power Beaming” — at:



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