China has unveiled plans to build a solar power plant in space in an ambitious project that several other countries are trying to emulate.
The solar panels Land-based systems are already making a real difference to energy production as we try to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but occasional cloud cover means the system is often not running at full efficiency.
To get around this, Chinese scientists and engineers have been working on a way to build a solar power plant in space capable of transmitting stored energy to Earth, and those behind the project claim such a facility could generate six times more energy than if it were located on the ground.
While China had aimed to launch its first solar power transmission technology in 2030, those involved in the project said technological advances meant it can now start testing its equipment in space in 2028. reported the South China Morning Post.
The test technology, which scientists say is capable of converting solar energy into microwaves or lasers before being directed to ground stations that convert it into power for the grid, will orbit at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers).
While the test facility will only generate around 10 kilowatts of power, if it works effectively then it can be expanded to produce considerably more.
But the Chinese team is under no illusions about the size of the challenge ahead if it is to succeed in its effort to transmit high-power microwaves over great distances.
Problems include “effectively cooling several essential components; assemble a very large infrastructure in orbit with multiple launches; penetrate the atmosphere in any weather with high-frequency beams; and prevent damage from asteroids, space debris, or a deliberate attack,” the report said.
China aims to build a full-scale space power plant in four stages, with the necessary components being carried into space in a series of rocket launches.
Following the first launch in six years, engineers want to send a more powerful version of the technology into orbit in 2030 in a bid to meet their goal of launching a 10-megawatt power plant capable of transmitting power to military and civilian users to 2035.
If all goes according to plan, the station could increase power output to 2 gigawatts by 2050, about twice as large as a nuclear power plant.
China has been actively pursuing the idea of space-based solar power plants for the past few years, while other countries, including the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, India and Russia, are also exploring the idea.
The report notes that NASA said last month that it is exploring similar plans with the US Air Force, while the British government revealed earlier this year that it is considering a $20 billion proposal with various defense contractors. Europeans who would put a pilot solar power plant in space by 2035.