Humans use a lot of electricity, very little of it comes from clean and renewable sources like the Sun. If we really want to make the most of solar power though, we’re going to have to make it more efficient. And one way of doing that is to put those solar panels in space.
China has announced plans to do exactly that. The country is hoping to be the first to put a solar farm in orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. There it will have less atmospheric interference to deal with and it won’t be subject to the whims of pesky clouds with the changing seasons.
The first stage will be launching small power stations into the stratosphere between 2021 and 2025. But the ultimate goal is to put a megawatt level farm into space in 2030 and a gigawatt facility by 2050.
That is quite a long way off though and we all know things can change in a heartbeat when you’re talking about the space program and rapidly evolving technology. Of course there’s still plenty of unanswered questions, like how exactly we’d get that energy back down to earth.
The China Academy of space technology corporations suggests either microwaves or lasers and how they’d handle construction of a larger solar arrays. Robots and 3D printing may prove to be an essential ingredient for space-base to assemble it.
China isn’t alone in its quest though the idea of putting solar arrays in space has been explored for decades. In fact Japan has made serious strides in transmitting electricity wirelessly. And the California Institute of Technology claims to have a working prototype of tiles capable of collecting and beaming power back to Earth’s surface.
For now solar farms in space are just science fiction but it probably won’t stay that way for much longer. Hope it will become a reality someday.