China to launch space-based solar power station

Satellite with solar panels orbiting Earth (space-based solar)
Image: Shutterstock

China plans to start building the first phase of a space-based solar power station in 2028, and will conduct solar power generation and transmission tests at various orbital altitudes, according to The EurAsian Times.

The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the country’s leading state-owned spacecraft manufacturer, intends to execute a “Space high voltage transfer and wireless power transmission experiment” in low Earth orbit in 2028.

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The idea is to build a space station with a solar array that transforms solar energy into electricity, with transmission to Earth taking place via a microwave transmitter or a laser emitter.

The satellite will be able to generate 10kW of power. It will include a solar cell array, a microwave transmitting antenna, a low-power laser transmission payload, a transmitting array, and a test power transfer across 400km from orbit. 

This will be followed by phase 2 in 2030, which will be launched into geostationary orbit and will require energy transfer over a distance of 35,800km to Earth. 

The second mission could produce up to 1MW of power, with much larger transmission arrays and medium-power laser power transmission.

Phases 3 and 4, scheduled for 2035 and 2050, respectively, call for significant increases in energy generation and transmission (10MW and 2GW), orbital assembly capabilities, beam steering accuracy, and transmission architecture.

China isn’t the first country to consider space-based solar. In 1968, American aerospace engineer Peter Glaser submitted the first detailed plan for a solar-powered system in space.

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Glaser secured a contract with NASA to fund research after experimenting with solar power transport in the 1970s. Changes in federal administrations hampered the project, and it wasn’t until 1999 that NASA decided to re-investigate the issue.

The space agency eventually gave up on the idea because of the cost and economic feasibility issues. According to a NASA spokesperson, the agency is not actively researching space-based solar power for use on Earth. 

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