Space Based Solar Power

Hey, newphysicist here, in space there’s no atmosphere, its never cloudy and in geosynchronous orbit its never night. Yes, space is the perfect place for a solar power station to harvest uninterrupted power and can provide the earth with massive amounts of clean and renewable energy delivered wirelessly.

We know, On Earth solar power is greatly reduced by night, cloud cover, atmosphere and seasonality. That means its intermittent. The main disadvantage of solar power.

Moreover, some 30 percent of of all incoming solar radiation never makes it to ground level. In space its always shining, the tilt of the earth doesn’t prevent the collection of power and there is no atmosphere to reduce the intensity of sun’s rays. How it would be, if we can harvest it?

The concept has been around since the 1940s when the science fiction writer Issac Asimov posited the idea of a robot manned space station that delivered energy to earth via microwaves. Today the Idea is less science fiction than a steadily advancing reality. An advanced photovoltaic cell in space can deliver up to 40 times the annual amount of reliable energy that the same cell would generate on the ground.

Dreamy eyed physicists have effused about the potential of SBSP since the 1960s. They have sketched out preliminary designs that would bring that power from the orbit to the ground. A giant engineering challenge to be sure, but one that now has plausible solutions. But, what they haven’t been able to do is make it affordable.

NASA, us doe and defence, the European space agency, Japanese aerospace exploration agency jaxa, a hand full of companies and a gaggle of academic scientists all have taken hard step looks at stellar power technology and concluded that from a technical point of view it is feasible. That means there’s nothing wrong with the physics but the real question is the economic. Oh, I forgot to mention, SBSPs are also known as stellar power.

Space scientists have roughed out designs for several different kinds of stellar power plants. But the basic gist goes like something like this. Launch and robotically assemble several hundreds or thousands of identically sized modules in geosynchronous orbit. Some look like an orbiting version of a telestial solar farm, with flat photo voltaic arrays stretching for miles. A design for NASA called SPS alpha, by former NASA physicist John Mankins, instead arranges this film mirrors into a bell shape that can redirect sunlight from almost any angle onto solar panels that convert the energy into electricity.

The electrical current generated by an orbiting array can be sent to earth in one of two forms. It could be converted into a broad infrared laser beam or it could came down as a wider cone of microwaves radiation. In either case the satellite would focus its transmitter on a large receiving station on the ground and a feedback signal would keep it from staying from its target.  To ensure safety the beam would be no more intense than the midday sun. The estimated cost of launching assembling and operating a microwave equipped geo satellite is in the tens of million of dollars. It would likely require as many as 40 launches for all necessary materials to reach space.

Space based solar power can provide a continuous free energy supply without any environmental impacts, and solar plant in space would need far less rutein maintenance than those on the ground. Unfortunately , from a public relations stand point both microwaves and lasers have negative connotations for most people because they associate microwaves with the oven in the kitchen and lasers with science fiction space battles.

But, we really do need a new way to power civilization. The fossil fuels that meet 84 percent of America’s energy needs are running out, and in the mean time they are destroying the planet. Considering our energy needs are expected to double by 2100, we are in trouble. Yes, renewable energy technologies exist. But solar power the one with arguably the most promise for significant, scalable diployment, is intermittent.

Although the sun provides more energy in one hour than humans consume in a year, we can only tap in to this power when the sun is shining. So, taking our solar panels from the ground to the Cosmos could be a great deal more efficient. It could be also be the key to Humanity’s survival. Thanks for reading..

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