Scientists from around the world will soon gather to discuss how satellites could be used to address the world’s energy needs by relaying solar power to Earth.

But the U.S. government’s decision to abandon research in 2001 could prevent the alternative energy source from ever seeing the light of day.

Solar panels on Earth are inherently limited in their ability to collect energy by two things — the lack of direct sun at night and atmospheric interference from weather. NASA’s now-abandoned Space Solar Power program would avoid these terrestrial impediments by launching satellites that would collect solar radiation and beam the energy to Earth. These satellite systems could each provide gigawatts of electricity, enough power for tens of thousands of homes.

Scientists from around the world will gather later this month in Spain to discuss the technology’s potential as an energy source on Earth and for space exploration. The Solar Power from Space conference runs from June 30 to July 2, and will include scientists from NASA, the European Space Agency, or ESA, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

JAXA and ESA have been spending several million dollars each year researching satellite solar power, but in the United States, scientists volunteer their spare time because there is no public- or private-sector funding. “These are not wild-eyed environmentalists,” Brandhorst said. “This is a dedicated community that wants to see something happen.”

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