Guest essay by Eric Worrall
China has announced an energy roadmap which includes plans to build a megawatt solar power satellite by 2030, and a gigawatt scale space based solar power satellite by 2050. If this roadmap proceeds, China could become the undisputed master of global orbital engineering projects.
Space solar power station: can science fiction become a reality?
Looking forward to the future, the long-awaited Bishan Space Solar Power Station Experimental Base (hereinafter referred to as the Bishan Base) has finally started construction. Zhong Yuanchang, a key expert on the team and a professor at the School of Microelectronics and Communication Engineering of Chongqing University, told the China Science Daily that the base is expected to be completed by the end of the year and related tests will officially begin next year. In the early stage, they have carried out energy transmission experiments at an altitude of 300 meters.
According to reports, only a few countries such as China, the United States, and Japan have actually carried out ground verification of space solar power plants. In my country, in addition to Yang Shizhong’s team, the team of Duan Baoyan, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at Xidian University, is also intensively carrying out relevant experiments.
Building a solar power station in space sounds very sci-fi, but the reality is also not easy.
At the Xiangshan Science Conference, academician Wang Xiji of the Chinese Academy of Sciences summed up the key technologies required by the space solar power station system as “gathering, transmitting and building”. However, it is extremely difficult to overcome each key technology, so that experts and scholars have called out that the construction of a space solar power station is just a concept.
According to the roadmap, my country will build megawatt-scale small space solar test power stations from 2030, and have the capacity to build gigawatt-level commercial space solar power stations by 2050. The first stage is divided into three specific steps. First, the ground and aerostat test verification of key technologies are carried out, followed by the verification of high-altitude ultra-high voltage power generation and transmission, and finally the space wireless energy transmission test.
The current work of the Yang Shizhong and Duan Baoyan teams is in the first step of the first phase.
…Read more: http://news.sciencenet.cn/htmlnews/2021/8/463245.shtm
Anyone who thinks China cannot mount such an extravagant project has not been paying attention. Over the last few decades, while the neglect of successive US administrations allowed America’s industrial heartland to wither, China has pushed full steam ahead with uninhibited economic expansion plans, and now controls 1.5x the manufacturing capacity of the United States.
The USA still has the edge in terms of space technology. But how long until China catches up? How many talented US scientists and engineers are fed up with creating designs for space mega-projects which simply end up gathering dust on some NASA bureaucrat’s shelf?
If China takes a sustained lead with providing consistent funding for major space projects, many scientists and engineers might find the opportunity to work on a well funded visionary space programme irresistible, even if it means they have to work for the Chinese Communists.