Is China planning to launch a solar power plant in space?
Reports say that China has a firm plan to launch a solar power plant in space that will help the country get inexhaustible power in 2028, two years before the scheduled time. So this proves that China is planning to generate solar power in space. In addition to this, China is also planning to perform various transmission tests at different orbital altitudes in the next ten years. This idea is part of the country’s space-based solar power station development.
What does the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) say about the plan?
China’s leading spacecraft maker, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) has a plan to conduct a “space high-voltage transfer and wireless power transmission experiment” in the lower orbit of the Earth, in the year 2028. It is estimated that the proposed satellite will have the capability of generating about 10 kilowatts of solar energy. In addition to this, the satellite can also carry a solar cell array, a transmitting array, a microwave transmitting antenna, and a low-power laser transmission pillow across a distance of about 400 kilometres from the initial orbit.
China’s plan to build solar power technology by 2030
China’s plan mainly includes building a proper infrastructure on earth that can be helpful to receive energy transmissions. However, a recent paper released by China Space Science and Technology (CSST) says that the year 2028 will see a first phase test which is further followed by a second phase test in 2030. Both the satellites will be launched into the geostationary orbit and thus will require a huge energy transmission over a distance of about 36,000 kilometres to earth. This mission is expected to generate power of about one megawatt and also features larger transmission arrays requiring on-orbit assembly and medium laser power transmission.
When will the next launches be made?
With the first and the second launch being finished in the years 2028 and 2030, respectively, the phase 3 and phase 4 launches are expected to be done in 2035 and 2050, respectively. The third and the fourth phase launches include an energy generation of about 10 MW and 2 gigawatts with an additional increase in transmission capabilities. However, the spacecraft is expected to require transmission arrays that are larger than a hundred meters and around 1 kilometre, respectively.
Space-based solar power test: China's Aerospace Info Research Institute under CAS carried experiments including 300m line-of-sight microwave transmission using the Zhihai research vessel & 30kg payload on small airship. Early research for potential space-based solar power project pic.twitter.com/923yNzakeR— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) August 19, 2021
What is China’s ultimate goal in launching these satellites?
The four phases of launching the satellites are expected to help China in reaching its ultimate goals of energy security and carbon neutrality. On the other hand, the updated plan is considered a response to the domestic and international development trends in the present world and also in response to the progress in technological research going on.
In 2021, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) stated that it is mainly working towards a small-scale electricity generation and is performing the tests with respect to the same in the year 2022. On the other hand, it also mentioned that the smaller tests will potentially lead to a mega-watt level power generation facility by the year 2030. There are various tests being performed by CAST in Chongqing to back up its space-based on solar power research.
In order to perform these tests, a large testing facility of 33 acres is built in Chongqing, which will be further used for the theoretical viability of a space-based solar power station. This huge testing facility is expected to develop mini space transmission technologies in no time. In addition to developing space transmission technologies, the testing facility is also used to study the defect of microwaves that are beamed back to earth on living organisms.
In the last year, CAST tested power transmission over a distance of about 300 metres using a small airship. In another claim in a current development plan by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the idea of using a Long March 9 superheavy launch vehicle for the construction of a space-based power station is brought up. However, this project is far from certain to gain official approval and proceed. On the other hand, space-based solar power is expected to face a lot of challenges, including manufacturing costs, economic feasibility, efficient and safe energy transmission, and cheap and reliable launch services.
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