Space-Based Solar Power: Sounds like science fiction, but it's fast becoming a reality


It might sound like the plot of a sci-fi film, but we could be harvesting energy from solar panels in space as early as 2035.

According to the Space Energy Initiative (SEI), a collaboration of industry experts and academics helping nations to achieve Net Zero, Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), could offer a reliable and affordable source of clean energy to complement intermittent renewables. As global warming and the energy crisis dominate daily headlines, the promise of new technologies that could help fully decarbonise the UK economy by 2050 seems almost too good to be true.

Straight out of science fiction – how is it done?

The SEI is currently hard at work on a SBSP project called Cassiopeia, which will place a constellation of very large satellites in a high Earth orbit. Once deployed, the satellites would collect solar energy, convert it into high frequency radio waves and beam it back down to a rectifying antenna on Earth, which would convert the radio waves into electricity. Each satellite would deliver around 2GW of power into the grid, which is comparable to the power output of a nuclear power station.

A bright idea – but why the fuss?

The 17th annual Global Carbon Budget released during the United Nations COP27 climate summit, laid bare how the world's increasing reliance on fossil fuels threatens the goals of the Paris Agreement. If the world continues to emit carbon dioxide at current record-breaking rates, we could hit the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures in just nine years.

With rising coal and oil consumption driven by the loss of natural-gas shipments from Russia and renewed air travel, the need for clean, sustainable sources of energy is more glaring than ever. The SEI says the potential for harvesting space-based solar energy is almost unlimited – it could theoretically provide all of the world's energy in 2050.

The severity of the energy security crisis means, fantastical as it might sound, we need to start seriously contemplating the possibility of building commercial power stations in orbit.

Point taken – now what's needed to make this a reality?

The SEI aims to establish the first orbital demonstrator SBSP system by 2030 and a fully-fledged operational system delivering power to the grid by 2040. To get there, the project is going to have to overcome some hurdles, which we shine a light on here:


SBSP technology is still emerging, meaning it is not quite ready to scale up for large, complex projects. Launching a large number of solar panels into space will be expensive and although the UK Government is backing the idea, funding is still limited. The sector will need to think strategically about attracting private investment for the technology involved in SBSP.

But don't sell out

As excitement over SBSP rises to a fever-pitch, we need to ensure that sustainability remains at its core. Launching solar panels into space will itself generate the carbon emissions that the SEI is so determined to reduce. Thankfully, an environmental study of the Cassiopeia project conducted by the University of Strathclyde, found that the overall carbon footprint of the project, including launch, could be as low as half that of land-based solar power.

Watch this space - what's next?

As SBSP projects progress, it's important to promote joined-up thinking among all stakeholders to ensure the Net Zero goal remains central.

To meet the challenges of Net Zero, harness the decarbonisation benefits of SBSP technologies and safeguard energy security, we need to promote integration and collaboration between our Space and Satellite and Energy ecosystems.

Foot Anstey's lawyers are experienced advisors to clients in the Energy and Infrastructure and Space and Satellite sectors. We'd be delighted to discuss your Net Zero aspirations with you and how we can use our commercial and regulatory insights to support your decarbonisation agenda.