international space station

Solar power stations in space?

A blog written by Omar Faid.


The idea of huge solar farms in space sounds ridiculous, like something out of a
sci-fi movie. We already have enormous solar farms on earth like the Tengger
Desert Solar Park in China that produces up to 1,547MW of power. Now, you are
probably thinking that that is a lot of power and it is. In fact, that’s enough
energy to power a whole city which is insane.

The problem is that this is only 40% of the power that the farm actually
produces. Up to 60% of the energy is regularly lost mainly due to the atmosphere
and its elements. Numerous physicists and engineers have repeatedly theorized
about the feasibility of space-based solar energy. The proposals are numerous
and varied – from thermal power plants on the moon to swarms of solar panels
that orbit the sun directly and yet it always seemed like a futuristic dream.

Construction, engineering, and financial hurdles:
> Why hasn’t it been constructed yet?
Technical challenges such as huge temperature differences of several hundred
degrees within a few millimeters between the front and back of the panels are
hard to overcome with our current technology. One other key aspect is the fact
that we are going to have to launch such a huge structure into space which is
currently, basically impossible. A single solar power station may have to be as
much as 10 kilometers squared in area which is the equivalent of more than 1000
soccer stadiums.

In an ideal world, a best-case-scenario if you will, a very light version of a
solar power plant could be assembled in space. The materials required for this
would weigh around 4000 tons and could be launched into low orbit with around 50
rocket launches. This whole process would cost about 11 billion dollars.

Energy transfer:
The question of how the recovered energy is supposed to reach earth again
remains a mystery. In fact, fixed cables were also considered but with the
current materials, however, this path seems impossible. That is why the idea of
wireless transmission is growing into a more considerable option.

The solar energy absorbed by the collectors is converted into electrical energy
with the help of photovoltaic systems. It is then sent to the earth by microwave
rays, where it is captured by a field of collectors that are several square
kilometers wide and converted back into electrical energy. Other approaches
target lasers, which would scatter far less, but are theoretically more
dangerous than radio waves.

Wireless energy transfer based on ideas from Nikola Tesla are very promising. It
has already been successfully tested. In 2008, US scientists “sent” 20 watts of
solar power via microwaves over 148 kilometers from Maui to Hawaii. In 2015,
Japanese scientists transmitted ten kilowatts over 500 meters. In the case of
transmission from space, the dimensions would be much larger, but it is
technically possible and at the same time harmless to humans.

The future:
Imagine a world that is only powered by clean renewable energy. Solar farms in
space could prove to be a viable option in the future. This technology has the
huge potential to save our planet from the pollution we create on earth.


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