Reflect Orbital has an idea that could potentially offer short periods of daylight to locations on Earth after dark, as CleanTechnica reported. While the concept is primarily being pitched as solar power on demand, the company has other use cases in mind.

The CEO of Reflect Orbital is Ben Nowack, a former propulsion engineering intern who worked on Crew Dragon components at SpaceX. He sees his company as a viable business opportunity that could expand access to this renewable resource on Earth by simply shining some more light on it.

Solar power has obvious intermittency issues. Since the Earth rotates, much of the planet is in the dark for long periods of time. Novel energy storage methods using thermal tech and abundant natural materials are already being developed to store energy gathered during the day for later use, but that doesn’t increase generation.

As CleanTechnica detailed, the new concept aims to deploy satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit at about 600 kilometers (about 373 miles) above Earth in order to direct the sun’s power to solar panels on the ground after the sun has already gone down. Each satellite would have tightly stretched 10-by-10-meter mylar sheets (roughly 33 feet per side) for maximum reflectivity, as Nowack shared in an interview with the YouTube channel First Principles.

If the company can get 57 satellites into an orbital array outside of the shadow cast by the planet itself, it could theoretically provide an extra 30 minutes of sunshine anywhere in the world, as CleanTechnica shared, saying: “It’s sunlight-as-a-service, from space.”

What’s more, the company is considering selling periods of sunlight to customers as a product beyond solar energy collection. Imagine getting a taste of daylight to break the monotony of living up north, where nights can sometimes be as long as 22 hours.

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration has charted the growth of renewable sources for the next couple of years and solar is one of the fastest growing sectors. With a forecasted increase of 42% more electricity expected to be generated from solar in the second half of 2024 compared to the second half of 2023, solar seems like a safe bet.

Even more localized concepts have been considered, per the article. By using a special helix orbit, the reflectors could focus sunlight on regions that have built-up solar arrays more densely into one area, such as Spain or California.

As of now, the company is planning to launch two pilot satellites as a proof of concept. If successful, this could help reduce dependence on dirtier alternatives.

Reflect Orbital’s concept isn’t a wholly new idea. In 1993, the Russians launched Znamya, a 65-foot-diameter solar reflector that had many of the same goals. The Smithsonian detailed how that actually worked briefly.

As shared in that article, the New York Times’ Warren Leary said: “While observers on the ground only reported seeing a bright pulse as if from a star, astronauts in orbit said they could see and follow a faint light across the sky below.”

We’ll have to wait and see how sunlight reflected to ground arrays works at the scale proposed by the company. In the meantime, other projects have been exploring how solar arrays in space could beam power back to the Earth in the form of microwaves.

While entrepreneurs explore wide-ranging solar energy possibilities, individuals can help reduce planet-warming pollution by installing their own solar panels, which can reduce long-term costs and support a greener future through technology.

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