Solar panels launched into space could soon send electricity back to Earth

LONGi Green Energy, the world’s largest solar company, will launch solar panels into space to test whether they can successfully operate in orbit and transmit power to Earth.

The Xi’an, China-based solar giant’s recently announced project is called the LONGi Green Energy Future Energy Space Laboratory. It aims to “promote the integrated development of aerospace technology and new energies”. The company will also test its products in similar environments on Earth to assess whether they are suitable for space.

So why launch solar panels into space? Unlimited exposure to sunlight while in orbit.

Wu Zhijian, chairman of the China Space Foundation, a government-backed agency under the China National Space Administration, said [translated]:

The first applications of photovoltaics are in the aerospace field. The development of photovoltaics and aerospace are inseparable. Photovoltaics has always been the main producer of space energy. I am very happy to see LONGi take the first step in aerospace and connect in the future space power plant, aerospace commercialization and other fields.

I also look forward to LONGi and Chinese PV companies stepping up their pace and moving forward hand in hand with China Aerospace.

In June, Chinese scientists from Xidian University in Shaanxi province announced that they had successfully tested a complete system model (pictured above) capable of wirelessly transmitting solar power from the space to Earth. Bloomberg summary how it works:

[It] captures sunlight above the ground and converts it into microwave beams. It then transmits over the air to a receiving station on the ground, where it can be converted back into electricity. While the model only sends power 55 meters in the air, researchers hope the technology can one day be extended to send power from orbiting solar panels back to Earth.

Electrek’s Grasp

I write about solar a few times a week, but solar from space? It was time to talk to the space experts. I asked the writers to Electrekthe sister site of, space exploredwhat they thought of this initiative, and they weren’t too enthusiastic.

Seth Kurkowski said:

We already have a problem with too much space junk and large orbiting constellations. There are no regulations to ensure that satellite operators cooperate to avoid each other, and adding more is not going to improve the situation.

It’s a great idea in theory, but I think the extra problems it will create will outweigh the benefits it will bring. But the technology that LONGi could create from these tests could be useful for future space exploration on the Moon or Mars when we have less congestion in our orbit.

And Derek Sage added:

Continuing to explore and improve solar panel technology for spaceflight will continue to improve that same technology here on earth and in other space applications. But the idea of ​​”space power plants” is a very… optimistic take. I just can’t see it happening. If LONGi gets double or even triple power due to lack of clouds and darkness, I see no way to compensate tens of millions of dollars per launch.

A [SpaceX] The Falcon 9 can launch (very roughly) 20,000 pounds into low Earth orbit, and that would be less for sun-synchronous orbit. Solar panels designed for space might be lighter, but would degrade faster than on Earth. And if the company is paying $35-45 million for 20,000 pounds of solar panels… that’s a ton of extra solar panels and batteries you could buy here on Earth.

Read more: SpaceX Dragon delivers solar panels to the International Space Station

Photo: Xidian University

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