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Queen Mary to develop wireless technology to beam down solar power from space

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has been awarded £960,000 from the UK government to investigate wireless technology for spaced-based solar power (SBSP).  

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A CubeSat goes past the International Space Station's solar arrays - Credit:NASA
A CubeSat goes past the International Space Station's solar arrays - Credit:NASA

This ambitious project aims to revolutionise the field of space-based solar power (SBSP) and pave the way for a more sustainable and efficient energy future. The funding announcement comes as the UK demonstrates its commitment to pioneering innovations in renewable energy sources. 

Queen Mary University of London's project, in collaboration with BSC Associates Ltd, will focus on developing a space-based solar power (SBSP) wireless power transmission (WPT) system that surpasses the current state-of-the-art by using advanced technological innovations in transmitting antenna arrays and rectenna devices. 

Xiaodong Chen, Professor of Microwave Engineering at Queen Mary University of London, and Principal Investigator on the project, said: "This exciting endeavour with the generous government funding will propel the development of wireless technology for space-based solar power transmission to new heights. Our ambitious project aims to transform the way we harness and transmit solar energy, potentially revolutionizing the global energy landscape. It’s a massive opportunity for the university to be at the forefront of new space technology."  

SBSP promises a number of benefits over terrestrial solar power generation. In space, the sun’s light is much more abundant and intense, and solar power can be generated without interruption by weather conditions or the day-night cycle. The right wireless technology could also transmit power wirelessly to any point on Earth. 

The project will prove the feasibility and demonstrate the benefits in wireless power transmission (WPT) of a novel phased array transmitter. A phased array is a system of multiple antennas that work together, enabling the beam to be directed and focused in a desired spot. 

The team will also demonstrate high Radio Frequency (RF) to DC conversion efficiency in an offset-fed reflector-based rectenna, which plays a vital role in capturing and converting the transmitted energy. A rectenna is a specialized device that combines a rectifier and an antenna, which converts high-frequency electromagnetic waves into direct current (DC) electricity. 

The project will also explore the integration of the reflector rectenna with solar panels to enhance overall power generation capabilities at ground sites. 

To validate the concepts and technologies, the team plans to build a small-scale WPT demonstrator using digital beamforming technology. This will serve as a crucial step in verifying the effectiveness of the proposed novel phased array transmitter and the high-efficiency reflector rectenna. 

Environmental and safety considerations will be paramount as the project progresses, ensuring the potential impacts of SBSP on the environment and safety are thoroughly evaluated. 

Professor Colin Bailey, President and Principal of Queen Mary University London, said: "With its focus on technological innovation and sustainability, Queen Mary is set to play a crucial role in advancing the UK's renewable energy goals and contributing to a cleaner, greener future." 

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps said: 

"We’re taking a giant leap by backing the development of this exciting technology and putting the UK at the forefront of this rapidly emerging industry as it prepares for launch. By winning this new space race, we can transform the way we power our nation and provide cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy for generations to come.” 

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