China plans to launch a fleet of mile-long (1.6 km) solar panels into space by 2035, sending energy back to Earth in a bid to achieve its 2060 carbon neutral goal.
Reports suggest that once the space solar array is fully operational by 2050, it will send a similar amount of electricity to a grid like a nuclear power plant.
The idea of a space power station was first proposed by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1941, and was explored by several countries thereafter, including the United Kingdom and the United States.
Above Earth, there are no clouds day or night that can block the sun’s rays, making a space solar plant a stable source of energy without carbon emissions.
However, the Chinese government appears ready to move from exploring the science and technology behind the idea, to putting the system into practice.
In Chongqing, the Chinese government has laid the foundation stone for a new Bishan space solar energy station, which will begin testing by the end of the year, with the hope of having a megawatt solar power station by 2030.
It is not clear how much a full space power station will cost to launch or operate, but it is expected to be operational by 2035 and at full capacity by 2050.
It is noteworthy that a third of the days in the city of Chongqing in southwest China are cloudy throughout the year, making it an unlikely host for a research center focused on solar energy.
However, over the next decade, a team at this new center will test and launch an array of solar panels into geostationary orbit.
It will start with just megawatts of power, but by 2049 it will be scaled up to gigawatts of power, the same output as China’s largest nuclear power reactor.
Originally, construction of a $15.4 million test facility for the National Space Solar Program, in Heping village near Chongqing, was started three years ago, but was delayed to make time for discussions about cost, feasibility and safety.
However, these issues have been resolved, and the project started again in June and will be nearing completion by the end of the year.
An array of solar panels orbiting 22,400 miles above Earth in a geostationary orbit would allow the power plant to avoid Earth’s shadow and collect sunlight all the time.
The researchers will work on the best design to return energy to Earth. It is believed that by using microwaves, the team will be able to reduce the amount of energy lost as it passes through the atmosphere.
The basic concept includes a space station with a solar array to convert solar energy into electrical energy. It then uses a microwave transmitter or laser emitter to transmit energy to a collector on the ground.
Scientists working at the Bishan facility will first start sending signals from balloons to a receiving station, building on a previous experiment that saw power be transmitted over 980 feet.
They hope to send a balloon to collect stratospheric solar energy and send it 15 miles to the base station once the building is complete.
In addition to working on a space system to power the grid, the team will also develop other applications such as using energy beams to power drones over long distances.
The facility extends over an area of 4.9 acres and is surrounded by a clearing area covering an area of more than 25 acres, and the facility will have a secure buffer zone for trial packages.
This is because Chinese studies have shown that the risk of a solar power plant in space “cannot be neglected” due to the possibility of vibrations in the solar array causing imbalances in ultra-high frequency radiation.
The Chinese team is working to make sure it has a highly advanced flight control system to keep its target in a small spot on the ground.
Radiation is another danger as people will not be able to live within 3 miles of a receiving ground station once it has risen to gigawatts of power.
Source: Daily Mail
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