China to build massive solar power station in space

China
aims to construct a huge solar power station 36,000 kilometers above ground in
an attempt to fight smog, cut greenhouse gases and solve energy crisis, very
much based on the idea first floated by fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1941,
state media reported on Monday. If this mega-project is realized, this will be
the largest-ever space project surpassing the scale of Apollo project and that
of the International Space Station.

The
power station would be a super spacecraft on a geosynchronous orbit equipped
with huge solar panels. The electricity generated would be converted to
microwaves or lasers and transmitted to a collector on Earth, staterun Xinhua
news agency reported. In 1941, American science fiction writer Isaac Asimov had
published a short story “Reason”, in which a space station transmits
energy collected from the sun using microwave beams.

Wang
Xiji, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an International
Academy of Astronautics member, says Asimov’s fiction has a scientific basis. After
devoting over 50 years to space technology research, Wang, 93, is an advocate
for the station: “An economically viable space power station would be
really huge, with the total area of the so lar panels reaching 5 to 6 sq
km.”

That
would be equivalent to 12 of Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square, the largest public
square in the world.”Maybe people on Earth could see at night, like a
star,” says Wang. Wang says the electricity generated from the
ground-based solar plants fluctuates with night and day and weather, but a
space generator collects energy 99% of the time.Space-based solar panels can
generate ten times as much electricity as ground-based panels per unit area, says
Duan Baoyan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. “If we have
space solar power technology”, hopefully we could solve the energy crisis
on Earth,” Duan said.

Wang
says whoever obtains the technology first “could occupy the future energy
market.” However, many hurdles lie ahead: A commercially viable space
power station would weigh 10,000 tons. But few rockets can carry a payload of
over 100 tons to low Earth orbit. “We need a cheap heavy-lift launch
vehicle,” says Wang, who designed China’s first carrier rocket more than
40 years ago. “We also need to make very thin and light solar
panels.”

Li
Ming, vice-president of the China Academy of Space Technology, says,
“China will build a space station in around 2020, which will open an
opportunity to develop space solar power technology.”

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