According to a study conducted by Astrostrom for the ESA, a future moon base could be powered by a giant space butterfly called the Great Earth Lunar Power Station (GEO-LPS), which is covered with solar panels made of lunar material and beams microwaves to the lunar surface.
One of the major design issues in building a moon base is finding a reliable means of supplying electricity. Solar energy might seem like the obvious answer, but since lunar night lasts 14 Earth days, it’s not a practical option. However, although the most promising alternative for now is small nuclear reactors, solar power may not be eliminated.
The idea of building solar power plants in space has been around for more than half a century. On Earth, solar panels are limited by nighttime, atmospheric smog, and inclement weather, and can only generate electricity intermittently, with limited efficiency. On the other hand, in space, where there is no night and no atmosphere, solar energy becomes very attractive.
Solar power plants in space could be especially attractive for lunar outposts, according to new ESA research. The research focused on the new GEO-LPS design, which consists of a manned station core spanning a pair of V-shaped solar panels bent in a helical configuration to provide structural support. Covering one square kilometer (0.38 square miles), the panels feature pyrite monolayer solar cells and built-in antennas to beam the collected energy to receivers on the Moon with a yield of 23 megawatts.
The entire assembly will be located 61,350 kilometers (38,308 miles) above the lunar surface at Earth-Moon Lagrangian point 2, where the gravitational forces of the Earth and Moon balance each other out, providing a point at which the space station can orbit as a solid. Here, GEO-LPS can serve not only as a power station, but also as a space laboratory with artificial gravity capabilities, a base for deep space missions, and even a tourist destination.
What is particularly interesting about this study, however, is that it claims that the required technology currently exists or is being developed on Earth that would allow the use of robotics and remote operating systems to build GEO-LPS from resources mined on the Moon, thereby removing one of the major obstacles to building such stations using Earth-made components. By using the Moon, the lower gravity would greatly reduce launch costs, and the space station’s modules could assemble themselves, reducing labor costs.
Sanjay Vijendran, head of the European Space Agency’s SOLARIS R&D program, said: “Launching a large number of gigawatt-scale solar satellites into orbit from the Earth’s surface will suffer from insufficient launch capacity and potentially severe atmospheric pollution. But once a concept like GEO-LPS has proven the concept of component manufacturing and assembly of lunar orbiting solar satellites, it can be scaled up to use lunar resources to produce more solar satellites to serve Earth.”
“In addition to providing enough clean energy for Earth, this would create many other benefits, including the development of Earth-Moon transportation systems, mining, processing and manufacturing facilities on the Moon and in orbit, resulting in economies of both planets and the birth of spacefaring civilizations.”