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China brings forward launch of solar power plant space station that would beam energy back to Earth

Succeeding where countries of the West have fallen short, China has expedited its program to launch a solar power plant in space that will beam energy back down to Earth by two years. The initial launch of China’s project is set for 2028. This ambitious step toward renewable energy through outer space succeeds where NASA has fallen short, and the European Union would otherwise release similar technology, however, until 2035. 

This new tech would involve wireless power transmission from space to the ground from an altitude of 248 miles (400km). The basic concept consists of a space station with a solar array to convert solar energy into electrical energy. Then it would use a microwave transmitter or laser emitter to transmit the energy to a collector on the Earth. According to the South China Morning Post, this satellite will “convert solar energy to microwaves or lasers and then direct the energy beams to various targets, including fixed locations on Earth and moving satellites.”

NASA was the first to propose a similar energy project so long as two decades ago. However, it never came to fruition, while the UK government-commissioned independent research supporting a £16bn British version in orbit by 2035. Where these countries see either a delay or lack of motivation is where China seems to soar.

The addition of such technology could lead to a stream of endless possibilities, not only in the technological presence of nations but also in how nations export energy. According to the UK-funded research on space-based solar power, the idea is “collecting this abundant solar power in orbit, and beaming it securely to a fixed point” on Earth, said the UK-funded paper. The researchers noted that these beams could also be directed to other nations “either as an energy export, or as part of our overseas development aid, or to support humanitarian disaster areas.”

The peer-revied journal Chinese Science and Space Technology detailed China’s updated plan. The plan illustrates a large orbiting solar power space station built in four stages. The plan outlines an estimation that two years following the first test launch, in the year 2030, China would send a more powerful reactor into a 36,000km geosynchronous orbit. The technology would have advanced by 2050 – and the station would be big enough – to allow the output of about two gigawatts, equivalent to the production of most of the UK’s terrestrial power plants.

However, according to the Chinese paper’s author Professor Dong Shiwei, significant engineering challenges have yet to be solved or even thought of. As China launches itself into the potential of renewable solar energy in outer space,  a place where sunlight is at a constant, it ties itself down to enormous construction projects such as building an ‘ultra-large’ spacecraft, requiring more than a decade to build and forty assembly flights.

If China follows through with its new-laid plan, its motivating, renewable technology will be forever described as trailblazing.



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