China’s Quest for Space-Based Solar Power: A Clean Energy Revolution
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Dec 07, 2023
Amid global efforts to transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, Chinese scientists and engineers are pursuing an innovative solution-harnessing the abundant energy of the sun in space and beaming it back to Earth. Multiple teams in China are currently dedicated to developing the necessary technologies for constructing and operating a space-based solar power facility. This ambitious endeavor could revolutionize clean energy generation.
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, explained the groundbreaking concept. “We aim to capture the sun’s energy continuously, a feat impossible from Earth,” he said. This groundbreaking technology involves collecting solar energy in space and converting it into electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves and laser beams, which will be wirelessly transmitted back to Earth. Receiving stations on the ground will then convert these energy beams into electricity for distribution to power grids.
As a key step towards verifying the feasibility of space-based solar power generation, Chinese scientists have proposed a technology demonstration mission. This mission involves the launch of a pair of satellites into orbit-a large one designed to collect solar power and convert it into microwaves and laser beams, and a smaller one responsible for receiving these beams. A ground station will be responsible for receiving the microwaves, creating an in-orbit testing system for wireless power transfer.
One of the key advantages of this technology is its ability to transmit power efficiently over vast distances, thanks to the vacuum of space. This capability opens up numerous possibilities for powering exploration programs in challenging environments, such as the lunar polar regions.
However, there are formidable technical challenges to overcome before a commercially viable space-based solar power project can take shape. These challenges include the development of high-performance components that are both compact and lightweight. Precision in transmitting power beams to ground receiving stations is also paramount.
“In the long term, we need to figure out how to transport large, heavy parts to orbit and then assemble a colossal power station,” Hou added.
China’s pursuit of space-based solar power is driven by the urgent need for new sources of clean energy that are sustainable, affordable, and secure. The country has committed to peaking carbon emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
Pang Zhihao, an expert on space exploration technology and a former researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology, sees space-based solar power stations as a promising solution to energy shortages and pollution. These facilities can harness sunlight around the clock without being affected by atmospheric conditions, potentially providing up to eight times more power than traditional solar panels.
Moreover, the energy generated by space-based solar power is clean and virtually limitless, making it an ideal power source for various applications, including spacecraft within its beaming range.
The concept of space-based solar power has been a dream since it was first proposed in 1968 by Czech-American scientist and aerospace engineer Peter Glaser. While various spacefaring nations, including the United States, the European Space Agency, and Japan, have expressed interest in this concept, technological and financial hurdles have limited its development. Recent years have seen significant progress, with the US Naval Research Laboratory conducting successful tests of solar power generation in spacecraft in May 2020 and the launch of the Space Solar Power Demonstrator by the California Institute of Technology in January 2023.
Based on a Xinhua News Agency article