To tap sun’s energy, China plans power station in space by 2028

China will launch a satellite at an altitude of 400 km and transform solar power into electricity and then change it into microwaves or lasers that can then be transmitted to various locations on Earth

The pilot project will produce 10 kw of electricity, but the success of the experiment will help scale up the project. Representational image

China has set on an ambitious path to establish a solar power plant in space by 2028, a good two years before the schedule initially planned.

The South China Morning Post quoted a Chinese space journal to say that the country will launch a satellite six years from now to examine wireless power transmission technology from an altitude of 400 km.

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According to science journal Chinese Space Science and Technology, the satellite will transform solar power into electricity and then change it into microwaves or lasers that can then be transmitted to various locations on Earth. The lasers can then be converted into electricity again and made available for human consumption. 

The pilot project will produce 10 kw of electricity, but the success of the experiment will help scale up the project.

Unlimited energy

At the heart of the initiative is the ambition to tap unlimited energy from the sun. Chinese scientist Pang Zhihao, who works with the China Academy of Space Technology, was quoted as saying that the plan is to set up a space solar power system that will orbit the Earth at an altitude of 36,000 km and tap energy from the sun 24X7.

A Chinese researcher said that testing infrastructure is being built in Bishan district to judge the practicality of a space-based solar power station.

The set-up in Bishan district, initiated by the Chongqing Collaborative Innovation Research Institute for the Civil-Military Integration in Southwestern China, will give shape to space transmission systems and also examine the impact of microwaves beamed back to Earth on living organisms.

Xie Gengxin of the Chongqing Collaborative said they plan to launch four-six tethered balloons from the testing base and connect them to set up a network at an altitude of around 1,000 metres. As quoted by media reports, Gengxin said that balloons will tap the sun’s light and convert solar energy to microwaves before beaming it back to Earth. Receiving stations on the ground will convert such microwaves to electricity and distribute it to a grid.

Others in the fray

The Chinese power station in space will likely have company. A few months ago, the UK government was said to be looking at a 16-billion-pound proposal to establish a pilot solar power plant in space by 2035. Airbus and other European defence contractors were said to be aiding the mission. 

In the US, meanwhile, the military is reportedly testing related technology on the X-37B space plane. On its agenda is a $100 million pilot to power up a remote military outpost by 2025. The nation’s space agency NASA had developed similar plans two decades ago; those were, however, shelved due to the complexity and cost. Now, NASA has once again powered up plans to work with the US Air Force on feasibility studies.

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