China: Space-based Solar Energy beamed to Earth might be a reality soon

Satellite hovering over Earth

Energy is what gets us going. Be it in the form of human energy, which allows us to do our work and live our lives every day, or other forms of energy such as electricity, fuels and so on. Humans are craving for energy every minute and most of the quarrels around the world have something to do with this need of energy.

Countries in the past have been conquering or colonizing other countries in search of more and more energy and resources. In modern times, the colonizing is not direct but on numerous instances, it has been seen that powerful nations prey on the weaker ones for the same.

The demand for energy increased manifold since the era of industrialization. The new industries and machines started to consume loads of energy and soon emerged a need for newer sources of energy and sources to procure that. However, after more than a century of exploiting the fossil fuels to obtain energy, the Earth’s atmosphere has been deteriorated to such an extent that if steps are not taken now, there might not be the next generation to face the consequences altogether.

On the face of severe pollution, humans are resorting to the new ways of energy production such as renewable resources. These resources are often the least harmful and are usually non-polluting. Amongst various methods, solar power is the most popular and probably the easiest.

The technology has been prevalent for a long time and has been used on earth and on space technology alike. However, the current energy requirements and future needs are crossing all the expectations. It is getting more and more difficult to find a steady source of energy that can sustain the energy needs for a significant amount of time for the ever-growing population of Earth.

As the quote goes, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, it is now time to look towards the vast universe to find answers to our energy needs. The current state of technology is capable of great feats and it should be put to use to realize its potential. The only barriers to this are costs and will power by the major world powers.

China has become a major Space-faring nation in the recent past. In recent months, they became the first country to land a rover on the dark side of the moon to collect important data that has been mostly unknown to mankind. Their space technology has been on a stellar rise and it is being proved true by the following technology yet again.

According to an article by Mr Michael Calabrese in Solar Magazine, a Solar Power station based in space is what China is aiming to build. The aim is to complete the project by 2025. The solar panels will be massive at around 5-6 kilometre in length weighing around 5 tons.

As far as producing solar energy in space is concerned, it is very easy as compared to on Earth. The reason is efficiency. The strength of the solar light is 5 times higher in space than on Earth. The light comes after refraction and also other materials reduce the power of sunlight on Earth. Moreover, unlike on Earth, there is always light in space. There are no sunsets in space or sunrises for that matter.

Earth-based antennas
The power generated in space would then be beamed back to Earth-based antennas through microwave or lasers. Interestingly, the only portion of the time the satellite would be not producing energy will be the time it is in Earth’s shadow, which will be a mere 1% of its time. The satellite will be placed 22,000 miles above Earth.

The major issue with the whole project is the cost involved. It is estimated that using current technologies, the average cost of transporting one pound of weight will be around $30,000. This translates to a mesmerizing $300 million for the whole setup and this is just to send the setup to the Orbit excluding the manufacturing cost. The transportation cost is huge and that is why people are planning to build it in space itself. This seems to be extremely futuristic yet impossible. Something that has been common in numerous sci-fi movies, but in reality, it is a mammoth task.

The plan is to build the whole setup using raw materials mined from the asteroids or from the Moon. Apart from the cost, there are numerous other barriers to the project mainly from the engineering point of view. The thermal engineering is extremely difficult as the sun-facing side will be at 400 degrees F and the dark side will be at -250 degrees F.

The global community needs to think and act upon such innovative ideas to make it a reality as soon as possible. Along with this, the reduction in pollution and increase in greenery all over the planet is crucial. Before looking to space for energy, a reduction in the waste of energy is also important. Humanity’s future rests on the rationality.

-Soumya De

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