Power Stations in space

This century-old concept by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky is becoming reality.

Credit (NASA)

“Beamed power”. This may be the first industrial resource from space. Renewable technologies continue to improve, more efficiency at lower costs. The last hurdle to mass adoption is the problem of intermittency. We need electricity 24 hours a day, all year-round.

This lives us with two options space or humongous batteries. This is a story about the former so let’s dive in.

The Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and reflects some of the sun’s light, therefore solar plants in space will generate more power and most importantly uninterruptedly.

But the elephant in the room is how do we take such large structures to space. A solar power station could span as much as 10 square kilometres about 1,400 football pitches.

One proposed solution would be to launch thousands of smaller satellites that would then assemble to form a large solar power plant. Developments in manufacturing, such as 3D printing will enable us to construct power stations in space.

Another major problem would be transmitting the power down to earth. Researchers led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have already developed demonstrated an orbiter system that would be able to convert power to energy waves and use electromagnetic fields to transfer them down to an antenna on the Earth’s surface.

China has designed a system called Omega, which they aim to have operational by 2050. This system should be capable of supplying 2 GigaWatts of power into Earth’s grid at peak performance, which is enormous. To produce that much power on Earth, you will need more than six million of them with solar panels.

As Research and development teams across the world commit time and effort to develop solar power stations. Our hope is that they could one day be a vital tool in our fight against climate change.

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