13 July 2022

Satellites to power the future lunar station

Satellites to power the future lunar station

Year 2050. The team of scientists inhabiting the lunar station reports to Earth that the satellites of the University of Aveiro (UA) are working perfectly. Recently placed in the moon’s orbit, the satellites mission is to capture solar energy to power the entire operation of the station. The energy project began to take shape in the distant year 2020 with the construction of a prototype satellite that today is in the museum of the European Space Agency (ESA).

The story is partly fictional. But if all goes according to the UAveiro scientists' wishes, it could be very real in a few decades. The project, supported by the ESA, envisages the construction of a set of satellites that, after being placed in orbit on the Moon, will be able to capture solar energy and transfer it to a lunar station in order to power its entire operation.

The first prototype is already being built by a UAveiro team of researchers based at the Department of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics (DETI), the Department of Physics (DFis), the Telecommunications Institute, the Aveiro Institute of Electronic and Telematic Engineering (IEETA), and CICECO - Aveiro Institute of Materials.

"The goal is to power the future habitable station to be built on the face of the moon," explains Nuno Borges de Carvalho, director of DETI, a specialist in radio frequency systems (wireless power transmission) and overall project manager.

At the forefront of the multidisciplinary team are also Rui Escadas, from DETI and IEETA and responsible for the batteries on board the satellite, and Rute André, researcher at DFis and CICECO and responsible for the solar panels for receiving solar energy on board the satellite.

To make the fiction a reality, plans call for a modular constellation of satellites that will orbit the Moon passing directly over the lunar base. When in direct sunlight, solar panels attached to the satellites and coated with luminescent materials will generate electricity more efficiently than the simple solar panels used on Earth today.

This energy, explains Nuno Borges Carvalho, will be stored in batteries until the satellite is closer to the lunar station. At this point, "the energy will be beamed to the lunar station through antennas and focused by lenses to reduce overflow losses." In this way, "it will be possible to provide power for lunar stations, even during the long lunar night."

"One day on the Moon corresponds to 15 days on Earth." In other words, a lunar season will always be subject to 15 days of light followed by 15 days of darkness. With solar panels running on the satellite, the energy harvesting is permanent since the panels are always facing the sun and the antennas, to discharge energy, are always facing the moon."

The researcher also reminds us that capturing solar energy in space is much more effective than on Earth. Besides the fact that on our planet the panels only work a few hours a day, "our atmosphere filters a huge amount of wavelengths, which doesn't allow us to receive the energy in full," adds Nuno Borges de Carvalho, pointing out that on the moon, because there is no atmosphere, this problem doesn't arise. So, the researchers also have the idea that one day the same satellites could send power not only to the lunar station, but also to Earth.

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