Saturday, June 1, 2019

China Is Building a Solar Power Station in Space

China is planning to build the world's first solar power station in space to provide "inexhaustible clean energy" according to China's Ministry of Science and Technology. This would take solar power to a whole new level.

The space-based solar power station would be placed in geostationary orbit, more than 22,360 miles above Earth and tap the energy of the sun's rays without disruption from atmospheric conditions or loss of sunlight at night. 

The station will be large, approximately 0.8 square miles to produce 1 gigawatt of power.

China is already testing the technology and intend to build the station by 2025.

A testing facility in Chongqing's Bishan district is being built that will be used to test the viability of a space-based solar power station.

The 33-acre test facility will develop space transmission technologies while studying the effect of microwaves beamed back to Earth on living organisms. The initial investment of 100 million yuan ($15 million) will be made by the Chinese government and construction will take up to two years. Once it begins operations, scientists and engineers will use tethered balloons equipped with solar panels to verify microwave transmission technologies.

Scientists plan to launch four to six tethered balloons from the testing base and connect them with each other to set up a network at an altitude of around 650 miles. The balloons will collect sunlight and convert solar energy to microwave before beaming it back to Earth. Receiving stations on the ground will convert such microwaves to electricity and distribute it to a grid.

Key Points

  • Science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov is credited with bringing the idea of space-based solar power projects to prominence in 1941.
  • Space stations and satellites already use solar panel arrays for their power needs, but NASA abandoned the concept of stand-alone space solar after some study decades ago..
  • Building renewable-energy projects in space to beam the sun’s energy back to Earth will reshape the way every person and business on the planet receive electricity.

The Space Race Heats Up

China’s ambitions in space rival that of the United States. Its two main objectives were originally human spaceflight (accomplished in 2003) and a permanent Chinese space station, which is coming closer to reality — it announced in early March that a manned space station similar to ISS is now on schedule for 2022, earlier than expected.
As the two geopolitical foes increasingly turn their attention to a technological and military race beyond the earth’s atmosphere, space-based solar power projects are an overlooked, often criticized idea. 

But with China announcing that within the next decade it expects to finish the high voltage power transmission and wireless energy tests that would be needed for a space-based solar power system, the concept is likely to get renewed attention.

All the plans in the space race have potential implications for a new military build-out in space of increasing relevance to the world’s powers. The Trump administration formalized plans in February for a branch of U.S. military known as the Space Force. 

The solar power station plans being contemplated by China include the launch of small- to medium-sized solar power projects in the stratosphere to generate electricity between 2021 and 2025, followed by a space-based solar power station that can generate at least a megawatt of electricity in 2030, and a commercial-scale solar power plant in space by 2050.