China’s Space Agency is working hard to develop futuristic technology that will allow solar power plants to be built in orbit and power cities on Earth’s surface.
The Chinese government has announced a plan to build the first such facility as early as next year, and a full-scale one by 2030. The idea is to harness the vast potential that lies in space, in terms of extracting energy from the sun and using it to power space installations and those on Earth. The idea is not new, but now we can finally make it happen.
In space there are no clouds and unfavorable weather conditions. Solar energy can also be obtained continuously, because there are no daylight hours. The efficiency of solar systems is many times greater than on Earth. Scientists want to take advantage of these benefits because the level of technology already allows us to do so.
The project involves building several solar power plants in orbit and being able to convert solar energy into radio-frequency (RF) energy using innovative “layered wafers,” and being able to beam that energy anywhere on Earth and convert it into usable energy.
As a good start, CNSA will launch a small model of such a facility into orbit for testing as early as next year. The vehicle will be equipped with special solar wafers and a system to transmit the energy to orbital vehicles as well as to Earth. At that time, experiments are expected to take place, which will answer the question of whether such technology will meet the hopes placed in it and come into use. Experts believe that it is already certain that this will happen.
Full-scale solar power plants of hundreds of megawatts are expected to be built by 2030, and gigawatt plants by 2050. For the largest ones, a powerful Long March 9 rocket, which has been under intense development for several years, is proving essential. The rocket is expected to offer the ability to lift up to 150 tons of payload to LEO and 50 tons to TLI.
The idea of using solar power to operate new space stations and bases on the Moon may not seem very efficient. After all, the Chinese military is also working on new, highly efficient nuclear propulsion systems and nuclear generators to provide plenty of energy for the lives of astronauts or colonizers.
But the military is also apparently betting on green solutions. They may not be as efficient as nuclear technologies, but they may be much cheaper to produce and safer for humanity. Interestingly, similar plans are in place for the Americans, who already have their first tests of such technology thanks to the capabilities of the X-37B mini-shuttle.