China is working towards soaking up abundant energy from the sun and then beaming it back to Earth. To this end, Chinese scientists and engineers are currently focusing on technologies needed for building and running a space-based solar power facility. Hou Xinbin, a Senior Researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing and a member of the Committee of Space Solar Power of the Chinese Society of Astronautics said that this will allow the sun’s energy to be captured nonstop, something that isn’t possible from Earth.
He further said that after collecting solar energy, the space facility will convert it into electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves, and laser beams and send it wirelessly back to the Earth’s surface. “Receiving stations will then turn these electromagnetic waves and laser beams into electricity for distribution to power grids,” said Hou, who is also a member at the Permanent Committee on Space Solar Power of the International Academy of Astronautics.
“My colleagues at several domestic institutes and I have proposed a technology demonstration mission to the country’s space community and are hoping it will happen in the near future,” Hou said during the international space industry forum.
“As a key step to verifying the feasibility of space-based solar power generation, we want to make and place into orbit a pair of satellites — a large one that will collect solar power and convert it to microwaves and laser beams, and a smaller one responsible for receiving laser beams. Meanwhile, a ground station will be in charge of receiving the microwaves. The two satellites will form an in-orbit testing system for wireless power transfer,” he said.
He said, “It is quite difficult to beam laser power to Earth, but it is easier to realize the task between satellites in orbit or between a satellite and a celestial body because of the vacuum.”
“Realizing laser power transmissions is meaningful in terms of space programs. For instance, a solar power satellite with laser transmission capability can operate in a lunar polar orbit and provide power supply to exploration programs in polar regions on the moon,” he said.
“There are challenges like developing high-performance components with acceptable sizes and weights — these cannot be too big or too heavy — and integrating them into a satellite, and also ensuring that the power beams reach ground receiving stations with great accuracy,” he said.
“In the long term, we need to figure out how to transport large, heavy parts to orbit and then assemble a colossal power station,” he added.
Hou noted that there is an urgent need in China to develop new sources of clean energy, which are sustainable, affordable and secure. China has announced that it aims to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and realize carbon neutrality before 2060.
As per experts, space-based solar power stations are a very attractive solution to energy shortages and pollution.