Smiley Movement logo

Solar Power beamed from space for the first time

Words by Tess Becker

The climate crisis is beginning to have noticeable effects around the world. Catastrophic weather events are becoming more commonplace, and without intervention soon, the consequences will continue to build. 

One way for us to address this is with green energy to replace our polluting fossil fuels. At Smiley News, we’ve covered many of those alternatives, including wind farms, solar power, and many more, but a new innovation may prove to help dearly in the long term. 

For the first time ever, researchers were able to beam solar power directly to Earth from a space station. 

The experiment is a part of the California Institute of Technology’s Space Solar Power Project. The researchers conducted the power transfer experiment using the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment, or MAPLE. MAPLE is a small prototype aboard the in-orbit Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) that launched this past January.

They were able to directly beam solar power collected in space to Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory of Engineering on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena.

“Through the experiments we have run so far, we received confirmation that MAPLE can transmit power successfully to receivers in space,” said Space Solar Power Project co-director Ali Hajimiri in a press release. “We have also been able to program the array to direct its energy toward Earth, which we detected here at Caltech. We had, of course, tested it on Earth, but now we know that it can survive the trip to space and operate there.”

The hope is that an invention like this can decentralize power and help distribute energy around the world to the people that need it most. 

“In the same way that the internet democratized access to information, we hope that wireless energy transfer democratizes access to energy,” Hajimiri said in the release. “No energy transmission infrastructure will be needed on the ground to receive this power. That means we can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster.”

This also offers a solution to the energy and climate crisis today, which according to the researchers is tied to storage more than capability. 

“The transition to renewable energy, critical for the world's future, is limited today by energy storage and transmission challenges. Beaming solar power from space is an elegant solution,” says Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum. 

Japan plans to test the viability of the technology with a public-private partnership in 2025 with the goal of implementing it by the 2030s. 

This could be a huge step in the right direction since space-bound solar collection could operate constantly whereas terrestrial-bound options are limited to the day-night cycle of the planet. 

“The hard work and dedication of the brilliant scientists at Caltech have advanced our dream of providing the world with abundant, reliable and affordable power for the benefit of all humankind,” Caltech trustee, and a primary funder for the project, Donald Bren, says.

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund. This organization helps support underrepresented and underfunded Black, indigenous, and women of color-led organizations across the world. Find out more and support them here

Collective Sun. They help nonprofits get outfitted with solar power capabilities. Check them out here.

Black Male Voter Project. They help Black men get involved in the political process around the United States. Find out more

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs