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article imageChina aims to build an orbiting power station in space by 2025

By Karen Graham     Feb 18, 2019 in Technology
China's Academy of Space Technology is working on an orbital power plant that would capture solar energy in space and beam it back to Earth.
China, as the world's No. 2 economy is showing off its superpower status in space. After being the first nation to land a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon, with its $8 billion annual budget for its space program, second only to the U.S., it now plans on competing with the U.S. for technological dominance.
Work has already started on the project, at an experimental base in the western Chinese city Chongqing, according to China's state-backed Science and Technology Daily, reports Engadget.
NASA Suntower concept
NASA Suntower concept
NASA
The project will actually take place in three stages - with the initial plan to build small power stations and launch them into the stratosphere between 2021 and 2025. If everything goes according to plan, the scientists behind the project will build a megawatt-level station in 2030 and a gigawatt-level facility high above the earth before 2050.
The China Academy of Space Technology Corporation claims these space-based solar farms will operate without atmospheric interference or night-time loss of sunlight, providing an inexhaustible source of clean energy. The agency also claims the set-up could "reliably supply energy 99 percent of the time, at six-times the intensity" of solar installations on Earth.
All this will be accomplished by converting solar energy into electrical energy and beaming it down to Earth utilizing laser or microwaves to a receiving station. There, the electrical energy would be transferred to an electrical grid. The Sydney Morning Herald says with the orbiting solar farms, “electric cars could be charged at any time and any place."
A laser pilot beam guides the microwave power transmission to a rectenna
A laser pilot beam guides the microwave power transmission to a rectenna
NASA
Is it sci-fi or workable?
There are quite a number of challenges in creating a workable solar farm in space. We already have satellites that use a solar array to collect solar power to keep their instruments running. So the first challenge for the scientists would be to figure out how to collect the solar power and in turn, transfer it down to Earth.
Another consideration is the receiving antenna. They would have to be very large, encompassing large blocks of land near the end users to be procured and dedicated to this purpose. Then there's the service-life of space-based solar power collectors. The materials used will face degradation from radiation and micrometeoroid damage, as well as the environment of space.
More about China, Power plant, orbiting, Technology, Clean energy
 
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