Solar Power Stations in Space

Recent researches show that the Earth is facing severe issues with energy supplies. Because of the consumerism of today’s society, we are drastically running out of non-renewable resources. There have been quite a few projects and initiatives to minimize the use of non-renewable resources and start using renewable ones instead. However, they are not enough. The Earth seems to be struggling to adopt wind, hydro, or solar energy solutions.

Some scientists think that they have found the best way to deal with the issues mentioned above. They claim that huge space-based solar farms can be the best solution to the Earth’s crisis of energy. They support their idea by saying that since the sun always shines in space, a solar power station, positioned there, would provide constantly renewable clean solar energy.

Where Does the Idea of Collecting Solar Power in Space Come from?

Modern scientists are not the ones who have concluded that space solar power stations will save the day. It was Isaac Asimov who first described the act of collecting solar power in space back in the year of 1941 in his short story ‘Reason.’

The American aerospace engineer, probably fascinated by Asimov’s short story, further developed the idea and published the first article on the topic of Collecting Solar Power in Space. He called his report  ‘Power From the Sun: Its Future’ and published it in the journal ‘Science’ in 1968.

It was in the 1970s when they created the first technology necessary for the realization of the ambitious idea of solar power stations in space. These included photovoltaic cells, wireless power transmission, and satellite technology. Even after the invention of the above-mentioned technical components, the project still seemed economically unrealistic, so they postponed its realization for some further point in the future.

Is there any Progress of the Space Solar Power Project in the 21st Century?

In 2015, Northrop Grumman and Caltech made a research agreement that would provide $17,5 m for further innovations necessary to launch a space solar power station.  Three Caltech professors – Hajimiri, Harry Atwater, and Sergio Pellegrino led the project.

At the beginning of 2019, China spread its intentions to be the first to build a solar power station that would be located in Earth’s orbit. They haven’t revealed the details of their project yet.

What are the Obstacles to the Project?

The biggest problem, for now, is how to provide such a massive collection of solar panels that would be enough to make the project successful and at the same time, possible to locate in orbit and at a reasonable cost.

Another potential issue could be a geopolitical one deriving from the fact that China’s project would rival the one of the USA.

Projecting the Space Solar Power Station in the Future

China’s ambitious plan is expected to be ready by 2022. The array of solar panels would orbit about  22,000 miles above the Earth and reflect the energy to the surface. This collection of solar panels would generate 2,000 gigawatts of continually flowing energy.