China is Constructing an Experimental Orbital Solar Power Satellite

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.

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markl
August 27, 2021 2:05 pm

What a puff piece.

Waza
August 27, 2021 2:09 pm

I don’t believe you.
China is only a developing nation.

Peter
Reply to  Waza
August 27, 2021 3:31 pm

Pretty much every bit of tech we use is built in Asia and actually cant be built elsewhere because the tech to build the tech is built there too.. recursively. Such is the result of outsourcing.

So they most certainly can do it and trust me many parts of the US look much worse than some of the poorer parts of China… and the big cities .. wow.

Felix
Reply to  Peter
August 27, 2021 7:37 pm

Not even remotely close to reality. Their best semiconductors use something like 14nm chips; TSMC, Hyundai, Samsung, and probably others are running 5nm now, I believe, and supposedly going to start 3nm within a year or two. Almost everything hi tech from China is only assembled there from parts made elsewhere. One report said an iPhone only gets 2-3% of its value from assembly in China.

Don’t believe the CCP hype.

Lil-Mike
Reply to  Felix
August 28, 2021 8:00 am

In case you’ve not noticed, TSMC is located in the break-away republic of Taiwan.

Peter
Reply to  Peter
August 28, 2021 9:36 am

Taiwan is in Asia.

It’s not hype, I have spent considerable time in Asia. They have been taking STEM seriously for years and graduate vastly more STEM graduates than any other part of the world. When you train millions of hard working engineers, mathematicians, physicists, material scientists, software people etc. it kinda pays off. These kids are working hard despite their government just as western kids work hard despite their governments. Hiding behind hype about an evil Chinese government does not change the facts on the ground of what’s happening with technology. Go around your house pick up a gadget, go around your offices and look at where they are made. Now imagine who made those factories and who built the hardware and software to run those factories and who will make the hardware and software to improve those factories. It’s a recursive process of evolution. If you don’t make something you cannot usually improve it. They are damn good at it now and getting better … hiding your head in the sand won’t make it go away.

Brooks H Hurd
Reply to  Peter
August 28, 2021 11:43 am

Peter,
I lived in Taiwan and Korea. I agree with you that the STEM emphasis in East Asia is a major reason for the rapid growth of East Asian economies. Every East Asian country has a higher percentage of STEM graduates than the US. Japan has been graduating more Engineers than the US with 1/3 of the population for a number of years.

James Snook
Reply to  Waza
August 27, 2021 3:32 pm

And, as such, exempt from the Paris agreement!

Climate believer
Reply to  James Snook
August 27, 2021 11:48 pm

Meanwhile back in the real world China commissioned 38.4GW of new coal plants in 2020, that’s three times as much as the rest of the world put together.

#clownworld

M Courtney
August 27, 2021 2:12 pm

We all know that eventually some technology will turn up that makes AGW another of yesterday’s apocalypses.
Thought it would come from Europe but if China do it first… good for them.

The wireless transmission of usable energy from space does sound suspiciously like a Bond villain device. Doubt it will be that cool though.

Building a solar power station in space sounds very sci-fi, but the reality is also not easy.

Well said.

Last edited 1 month ago by M Courtney
jorgekafkazar
Reply to  M Courtney
August 27, 2021 2:28 pm

No, we do not know that. AGW is not even a miniapocalypse. It’s a pretext for forcing Socialism on the entire world, and thus will not be relinquished no matter how many non-fossil fuel sources are developed.

Remember, if this is a weapon, the ground-based receivers can be paper dragons. That simplifies the project immensely.

Bryan A
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 7:21 pm

Multiple GigaWatt powered Lasers might be useful. Especially if pared with sufficient BATTERY storage to provide multiple firings prior to recharging.

AndyHce
Reply to  Bryan A
August 27, 2021 8:36 pm

A microwave attack would not be all that fun and probably much more energy efficient than lasers.

Lil-Mike
Reply to  AndyHce
August 28, 2021 8:01 am

You could likely roast other satellites

Felix
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 7:40 pm

If it is built and supports enough industry to be valuable, then switching it off without notice to make it a weapon would leave all that industry in the literal dark. That’s a pretty piss poor weapon.

niceguy
Reply to  Felix
August 27, 2021 8:42 pm

Switching on and off at the exact same time “smart meters” AKA remote controlled vaccine energy passports would be funnier.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 28, 2021 7:54 am

A “single surprise attack” that involves swiping a gigawatt focused energy beam across a nation can be quite effective. And then “oops, we lost directional control” to divert blame.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 28, 2021 3:52 pm

In the United States, advocates of space solar power took to promoting it for supplying forward operating bases (FOBs) in combat zones. The economic case seemed to close, since the supply chain for regular diesel fuel to power portable gensets is so long that the cost of power per kW-hr is enormous in some regions. So why did the American military not jump at the prospect? Same reason they rejected portable nuclear reactors: “The means to deliver diesel for FOB generators is in place, we know how to do it, and we know that the troops can rely on it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

JohnB
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 28, 2021 7:18 pm

Eric, you’re assuming that solar generation tech is the only thing on the satellite. Since the Chinese military have a controlling hand in any project like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the satellite had some “extras” on board.

Vincent Causey
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
August 28, 2021 12:01 am

Not socialism, but feudalism.

niceguy
Reply to  M Courtney
August 27, 2021 3:18 pm

Also, saying it’s even possible is an “age-old problem of blaming the Jews”
https://www.vox.com/22256258/marjorie-taylor-greene-jewish-space-laser-anti-semitism-conspiracy-theories

John Bell
August 27, 2021 2:14 pm

How to beam the energy down?

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  John Bell
August 27, 2021 2:23 pm

A scorched earth plan …

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 3:05 pm

Would the efficiency be above 25%?

Archer
Reply to  Curious George
August 27, 2021 3:10 pm

Someone call Scaramanga.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 3:42 pm

Eric, thanks. That link seems to have been written for 10-year olds. With a 50% transmission efficiency, we could get rid of power lines. Propose it to PG&E in California.

niceguy
Reply to  Curious George
August 27, 2021 5:24 pm

Relay via Starlink!

Robert Alfred Taylor
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 3:32 pm

All the fundamental technical problems were worked out in the 1960s – 1980s. The only fundamental problem left is cost to orbit. Should Musk achieve his “aspirational goal” for Starship, we would be within no more than a factor of four, from making this economically feasible. Multi mile transmission efficiencies of 87% were achieve using the commercial technology of the time.
Another method looked at was solar power stations on Earth, beamed to orbiting arrays, and retransmitted to Earth directly or via orbiting relays.
Yet another was transmitting power to interplanetary spacecraft using electrical propulsion, ion, etc.

Rusty
Reply to  Robert Alfred Taylor
August 28, 2021 2:40 am

Cost to manufacture it is massively prohibitive. You need to change the entire way spacecraft are designed and built. It’s akin to going from large scale nuclear reactors to mass production, modular ones.

Then there’s the fact that solar arrays deteriorate in space.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  Robert Alfred Taylor
August 28, 2021 4:55 am

I’m sure it will be ready soon after Elon’s heavy duty truck.

niceguy
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 4:05 pm

Two French villages refused the idea of getting dosed by the microwaves of … a Starlink downlink.
Some Greens ask for a “moratorium” on Starlink teleports.

And LFI (= La France Insoumise, the French Corbyn party) want a national debate on Starlink and to make it illegal…

Joe Crawford
Reply to  John Bell
August 27, 2021 2:28 pm

Think I’d be a bit careful about helping ’em. Were they plan on aiming it just might not be acceptable to their chosen destination..

jorgekafkazar
Reply to  John Bell
August 27, 2021 2:28 pm

Carefully, making sure that it only occasionally wipes out a US city. We should shoot this thing out of the sky as soon as it’s built.

Bryan A
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 11:20 pm

I can see it now…10,500 square meters of Solar pv panels on one side and…flip them over…voila, a 10,500 square meter focusing parabolic mirror to start building fires and burn cities to the ground in other countries

niceguy
Reply to  John Bell
August 27, 2021 3:28 pm

If like Marjorie Taylor Greene you believe such right-wing conspitard source such as InfoWars such as NASA: laser ou microwave.

Thomas Gasloli
August 27, 2021 2:21 pm

“A space solar power station is justba concept”

So are pigs with wings🐖

Pariah Dog
August 27, 2021 2:22 pm

If this is supposed to collect and focus sunlight down to the surface, won’t it a) fry anything on the surface that isn’t prepared to receive it, and b) cause a perpetual hurricane to form due to the surrounding air heating up?

Shoki Kaneda
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 2:32 pm

Won’t a very powerful microwave beam fry anything in it’s path? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it.

Vuk
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 2:56 pm

After few months spent in vicinity of such stations all kind of cancers including leukaemia might be an unwanted reword.

Vuk
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 3:18 pm

In my professional capacity I knew number microwave broadcasting link engineers, all claimed to experienced one or another kind of symptoms which could have been psychosomatic and at least four moved to different engineering duties after 3-4 years of working on links. Two died from cancer in their mid-60s. Pregnant women were told not to apply for available vacancies.
Military Medical Research: Recent advances in the effects of microwave radiation on brains
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5607572/

Last edited 1 month ago by Vuk
Joe Crawford
Reply to  Shoki Kaneda
August 28, 2021 2:02 pm

A friend I use to work with spent some time at the BMEWS station in Thule, Greenland. Said they use to throw balled up paper in front of the feed horn of the radar and watch them fry. Occasionally a sea gull would try to fly there and the same thing would happen to it. Of course all this was hear-say but not unbelievable for a 10 MW 3,000 mile radar.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 10:34 pm

G’Day Eric

“The USA developed the technology.”

From Chapter 2 “Colonies In Space”, (1977 & 2007)

“…O’Neill improved upon a concept which had originally been proposed by Peter Glaser in a 1968 article in Science. Glaser’s method of obtaining energy from space for use on Earth was to build solar power satellites on Earth and launch them from the ground by rockets. The satellites would then send electricity down to Earth via microwave beam.”

https://space.nss.org/colonies-in-space-by-t-a-heppenheimer/

Note: the individual Chapters can be downloaded. Chapter 3 goes into details.

The ground level test for microwave transmission of power was performed at the Goldstone Tracking Station, California. It worked.

(The entire book is well worth a read.)

Last edited 1 month ago by Tombstone Gabby
Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tombstone Gabby
August 28, 2021 11:59 am

“The ground level test for microwave transmission of power was performed at the Goldstone Tracking Station, California. It worked.”

Frequencies from 0.3 GHz to 300 GHz are defined to be the “microwave” portion of the EM spectrum.

Radar, using microwaves, was developed in the early 1940’s. Starting in the early 1950’s, most long-distance telephone calls were carried via networks of microwave radio relay links.

The transmission of relatively-high power via microwaves was and is a common experience for anyone that has owned or currently owns a microwave oven, which started being commercially available in 1954 (the Raytheon “1161 Radarange”).

Since the 1960’s, radio engineers and physicists have known that ground-to-satellite and satellite-to-ground microwave transmission of power was possible . . . they did not need a ground level test to demonstrate this. Heck, in 1964 the cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered by American radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson.

And here’s an interesting case concerning the lower end of the microwave power transmission range:
As of October 2015, the radio strength of Voyager 1 was about 23 watts. It’s signal is directed toward Earth, but since Voyager 1 was about 15 billion kilometers from Earth, by the time Voyager 1’s signal reached us its power was less than an attowatt, or a billionth of a billionth of a watt.
—source: https://public.nrao.edu/ask/how-strong-is-the-signal-from-the-voyager-1-spacecraft-when-it-reaches-earth/ [date October 2015]
Voyager normally transmits data to Earth over Deep Space Network Channel 18, using a frequency of either 2.3 GHz or 8.4 GHz, while signals from Earth to Voyager are transmitted at 2.1 GHz . . . all within the microwave spectrum.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
August 28, 2021 5:20 pm

GDay Gorden,

Quote from the book – Chapter 3 – “Power From Space”: (remember – published 1977)

“Unfortunately, we are no more ready to build Glaser’s power satellite today than we would have been ready to build a Boeing 747 in 1935. One of the major problems lies in the solar cells. Many spacecraft, such as Skylab, have displayed impressive arrays of solar cells. But all these arrays have been assembled by hand from small individual cells, each laboriously cut and polished.”

Some progress with solar panels has been made since then. At that time the microwave transmission had been already been figured out.

As an aside: We bought a microwave unit in 1971. It came with a ticket to attend a two hour demonstration on just what it could do in a kitchen. Haven’t been without one since.

August 27, 2021 2:23 pm

The Democratic Party tends to appeal to the Luddite tendencies among the greens, so Obama tasking NASA with Muslim outreach is more of the type of project they would attempt.
However one characterizes the Chinese government, they do not appear to have any desire to cater to greens, so a powersat project seems to be something a nationalist might do.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Tom Halla
August 27, 2021 4:31 pm

And I was beginning to wonder were all those Afghani ex-translators were going to find work. NASA!

Joe Shaw
Reply to  Dave Fair
August 27, 2021 5:36 pm

Well, we got a lot of milage out of the Germans after their defeat …

AndyHce
Reply to  Joe Shaw
August 27, 2021 8:43 pm

Hardly comparable

Vuk
August 27, 2021 2:48 pm

Wasn’t China virus bad enough, I don’t wish to read all that frightening stuff, to be honest I rather take a nap after finally finding something interesting in the Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/aug/27/from-aristotle-to-einstein-a-brief-history-of-power-nappers

if you happen to know what is the form of polyphasic sleep schedule called the Uberman sleep cycle, which involves 20-minute naps every four hours.

Last edited 1 month ago by Vuk
DonM
Reply to  Vuk
August 27, 2021 3:14 pm

“Aristotle also extolled the virtues of this hypnagogic napping – the semi-lucid state between sleep and wake – for inspiration….”

After my typical day … 16 hours of semi lucid state … it takes me about 3 hours to wind down and go to go to sleep.

(This isn’t a secret; typical ships bridge schedule of 4 hours on & 4 hours worked well for me and others.)

Robert Hanson
Reply to  DonM
August 27, 2021 4:15 pm

“Aristotle also extolled the virtues of this hypnagogic napping – the semi-lucid state between sleep and wake – for inspiration….”

As did Thomas Edison….

Dave Fair
Reply to  Robert Hanson
August 27, 2021 4:33 pm

I’ve managed to extend such periods for up to 16 hours.

High Treason
August 27, 2021 2:58 pm

It would make a perfect weapon. Capacitors store the energy, to be released at a specific target. As the energy wave travels at the speed of light, there is no time whatsoever for preparations at the target. Half a second is not preparation time. If used to start bushfires (then blame “climate change”) and fires in cities, the weapon would be highly destructive.

Just hope Mossad can hack in to the coordinates of the targets so the wrong targets are hit or the beam gets directed to other collection points to steal the energy.

H.R.
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 5:05 pm

Who needs a satellite for that, Eric? EVs already burst into flames at a rate which causes me some consternation.

That would be a waste of satellite resources… IMO, of course.

niceguy
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 6:11 pm

Space based car destruction?
Why not remotely control the car computer?

2hotel9
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 28, 2021 3:46 am

Crash it into a city and SHAZAM!!! instant made disaster. On someone else’s dirt.

magpie
Reply to  High Treason
August 27, 2021 4:57 pm

The powersats are more dangerous as the power source for dedicated High-Energy Lasers (HELs). The premise in the science fiction book by Lee Correy “Manna(1984)” was that the various superpowers had deployed highly stealthed energy weapons that depended on ‘hijacking and redirecting’ the civilian use powersats’ power transmission in case of hostilities.

TL/DR: No, powersats really aren’t the “Death Ray In The Sky™’ when using microwaves

niceguy
August 27, 2021 3:17 pm

So Marjorie Taylor Greene was wrong … about the space laser being “Jewish”?
[Actually she said the Rothschild’s laser, but evidently fighting antisemitism means that anything re: any Jews (or Jewish – or SS – sounding name must be made to be about “the Jews”.]

Hoyt Clagwell
August 27, 2021 3:21 pm

None of this will matter if we reach peak solar before they get it built.
/s/

2hotel9
Reply to  Hoyt Clagwell
August 27, 2021 3:44 pm

Oop, there it is! Ever body cabbage patch.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Hoyt Clagwell
August 27, 2021 4:36 pm

“Peak solar” is when we have covered the entire surface of the earth with ChiCom solar panels made with leftover Uyghur slave labor.

H.R.
Reply to  Dave Fair
August 27, 2021 5:07 pm

Not if we reach ‘Peak Uyghurs’ first.

Rusty
Reply to  Hoyt Clagwell
August 28, 2021 2:36 am

It will never be built on the scale required because it’s simply not economical to do so. Now or in the near future.

Just the cost of manufacturing the hardware will be prohibitive let alone getting it all to GTO/GEO (even with launch costs falling).

Chris
Reply to  Rusty
August 31, 2021 9:06 am

the chinese are already planning a kilometre long space station to provide manufacturing capaciry. Also consider the potential of the planned chinese moon base…..

2hotel9
August 27, 2021 3:43 pm

Lets us start a pool for where it is going to crash! I put a ten spot on LA, they been dropping a lot of their “mistakes” in the eastern Pacific, getting the range, as it were.

yirgach
August 27, 2021 3:49 pm

Next up – Moon Base and rail gun. Total domination…

August 27, 2021 4:13 pm

Capturing more solar energy and re-directing it to Planet Earth surface. Now that’s Global Warming you can bank on without a supercomputer-run model.

Of course any electricity this scheme produces would ungodly expensive.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 4:36 pm

In orbit.

H.R.
Reply to  Dave Fair
August 27, 2021 5:08 pm

By Uyghurs.

Drake
Reply to  Dave Fair
August 27, 2021 7:32 pm

On the Moon.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 9:15 pm

Eric, Do you have any idea how costly it is to put 1,000 kg into a Geosynch orbit? Now try multolying that a hundred times … just to produce a few hundred KW of electricity on Earth. Never ever in a million years a viable economic alternative to terrestrial generation options Even for the Chinese. They’d be far better putting 1 million uygurs on treadmills attached to generators.

Bryan A
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 27, 2021 11:36 pm

Don’t forget we’re talking about Communist China…even the labor is free so costs are minimal

Tom Abbott
August 27, 2021 5:52 pm

The U.S. is getting in on the solar power satellite bandwagon, too. Cal Tech and other American groups are working on solar power satellite technology right now.

https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/caltech-announces-breakthrough-100-million-gift-to-fund-space-based-solar-power-project

“August 03, 2021

Today, Caltech is announcing that Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company and a lifetime member of the Caltech Board of Trustees, donated over $100 million to form the Space-based Solar Power Project (SSPP), which is developing technology capable of generating solar power in space and beaming it back to Earth.

The donation was made anonymously in 2013, but the gift is now being disclosed as SSPP nears a significant milestone: a test launch of multifunctional technology-demonstrator prototypes that collect sunlight and convert it to electrical energy, transfer energy wirelessly in free-space using radio frequency (RF) electrical power, and deploy ultralight structures that will be used to integrate them.”

end excerpt

We also have an American group actively developing an orbital transfer vehicle. Orbital transfer vehicles will come in handy when we want to construct things in space.

https://astra.com/

I personally favor using a large balloon as the basis for a solar power satellite. It would save a lot of weight and rocket launches to get one in orbit. About 40 pounds of Helium could be used to inflate a balloon a mile in diameter, with solar panels placed on the exterior of the balloon. One Shuttle-launch equivalent could put the balloon in orbit.

MAL
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 9:02 pm

Arizona sun and heat is death to plastic, Plastic bags turn to powder from the heat plastic 5 galloon pail shatter from the heat after a couple of summers. The Home depot 5 gallon pail first turn yellow in the sun the fall apart after that. Any plastic in the sun is toast, the paint on my house south side was gone. As was the plastic pipe wrap I did not paint. I came across a PVC elbow left in the desert the top half was gone. Yet I have these idiot trying to sell me solar, I would not bet on a 20 year live of a solar panel more likely ten, try to pencil that one out and make it pay.

redc1c4
August 27, 2021 6:56 pm

i’ve got a couple of questions, if someone would be so kind as to enlighten me:
how does one transmit the electricity to earth?

how efficient is said transmission?

could it be used as a space based weapon on ground targets?

is this even cost effective for Earth use, or just another stepping stone to moving off planet?

TIA!

redc1c4
Reply to  redc1c4
August 27, 2021 7:00 pm

never mind!

just like @ Ace of Spades, all the good stuff is in the comments. 😉

James Schrumpf
August 27, 2021 7:16 pm

So essentially, China is building an orbital platform for a high-energy weapon that could melt any place on earth?

niceguy
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 11:23 pm

And to start forest fires?

Bryan A
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 11:38 pm

But, it doesn’t need to be city scale, only building scale. Light enough buildings at strategic points and much of the city will catch

Thomas Burk
August 27, 2021 7:46 pm

Yes, the US, Japan, China, Russia, and the UK are pursuing this, but there are immense roadblocks. A few that Wikipedia lists are:

  • The large cost of launching a satellite into space. For 6.5 kg/kW, the cost to place a power satellite in GEO cannot exceed $200/kg if the power cost is to be competitive.
  • Microwave optic requires GW scale due to Airy disk beam spreading. Typically a 1 km transmitting disk at 2.45 GHz spreads out to 10 km at Earth distance.
  • Inability to constrain power transmission inside tiny beam angles. For example, a beam of 0.002 degrees (7.2 arc seconds) is required to stay within a one kilometer receiving antenna target from geostationary altitude. The most advanced directional wireless power transfer systems as of 2019 spread their half power beam width across at least 0.9 arc degrees.[45][46][47][48]
  • Inaccessibility: Maintenance of an earth-based solar panel is relatively simple, but construction and maintenance on a solar panel in space would typically be done telerobotically. In addition to cost, astronauts working in GEO (geosynchronous Earth orbit) are exposed to unacceptably high radiation dangers and risk and cost about one thousand times more than the same task done telerobotically.
  • The space environment is hostile; PV panels (if used) suffer about eight times the degradation they would on Earth (except at orbits that are protected by the magnetosphere).[49]
  • Space debris is a major hazard to large objects in space, particularly for large structures such as SBSP systems in transit through the debris below 2000 km. Collision risk is much reduced in GEO since all the satellites are moving in the same direction at very close to the same speed.[50]
  • The broadcast frequency of the microwave downlink (if used) would require isolating the SBSP systems away from other satellites. GEO space is already well used and would require coordinating with the ITU-R.[51]
  • The large size and corresponding cost of the receiving station on the ground. The cost has been estimated at a billion dollars for 5 GW by SBSP researcher Keith Henson.
  • Energy losses during several phases of conversion from photons to electrons to photons back to electrons.[52]
  • Waste heat disposal in space power systems is difficult to begin with, but becomes intractable when the entire spacecraft is designed to absorb as much solar radiation as possible. Traditional spacecraft thermal control systems such as radiative vanes may interfere with solar panel occlusion or power transmitters.
MAL
Reply to  Thomas Burk
August 27, 2021 9:04 pm

Mirrors might work better, of course the would add to global warming not reduce it. Yet use humans may need the to keep the next Ice age at bay.

Bryan A
Reply to  Thomas Burk
August 27, 2021 11:39 pm

Can you LASE a Microwave Beam?
MASER

Last edited 1 month ago by Bryan A
niceguy
Reply to  Thomas Burk
August 27, 2021 11:57 pm

What is cheaper: LEO or GEO?

Rusty
Reply to  Thomas Burk
August 28, 2021 2:44 am

Yep, the problems are massive and therefore it will only ever be done for demonstration and not commercially.

gbaikie
August 27, 2021 8:12 pm

If China could do this, they could have lowest CO2 emission as compared to any country instead of having the highest CO2 emission in the world.
But China lacks the talent and the will to do it.
They have done something which is very easy to do, in comparison, find mineable water on the Moon.
Until some country can do this, one should not expect such a country to to do something which is far harder to do.

QQBoss
Reply to  gbaikie
August 27, 2021 9:03 pm

Beaming the power to Earth, with the losses involved in getting through the atmosphere makes no sense, especially when all other sources still have at minimum centuries left.

But sending that power to a lunar colony would make a huge amount of sense. Depending on where the colony is located, all the “waste heat” would be strongly appreciated, as well.

gbaikie
Reply to  QQBoss
August 28, 2021 4:27 am

If you beam electrical power to lunar surface and charge $1 per kw hour that would be wonderful, but charging $1 per kw hour on Earth surface, is a lot less useful. And certainly not worth billions trying to do.
If you beam electrical power to satellites in orbit and cost/price of $1 per kw hour, that would a lot cheaper than satellite are currently spending to get electrical power.
Or if China is actually going to use the beamed electrical power for China lunar bases, they would in winning position in term of lunar bases. But unless the satellite are going drive over to somewhere nearer the moon…
Well could beam power to spacecraft which could be used to get to orbits and going to the Moon or elsewhere- that might make some sense to have them in GEO.

David S
August 27, 2021 8:24 pm

Challenges will be:
-Getting the power back to earth without frying anything that gets in the way
-Avoiding or repairing damage from meteors.

But humans are good at solving problems.

Walter Sobchak
August 27, 2021 8:44 pm

They are just experimenting so that they can build space based weapons. They have solved their energy problems with lots of cheap reliable coal fired generating plants.

MAL
August 27, 2021 8:52 pm

Solar power in space is the only place solar power will work, there the sun shines 24/7 for a properly placed insulation. The question is how to get the power to earth where is would be useful. One method would be to use said power in particle accelerators to produce antimatter and bring said anti mater back to earth in small batches for generation of power. Micro waving it back, to many problems.

Peter Morris
August 27, 2021 9:32 pm

Two words:

Kessler Syndrome.

It’s already started, and idiots like Musk are only going to make it worse. The CCP thinks its mere existence is enough to ward off physical realities, and they’ll happily clog the skies if it means denying everyone else the ability to get there.

I ran the math on SPS in college. It’s untenable. You lose WAY too much in the conversion to microwaves, and more again converting that back to usable electricity.

These comic book ideas get shelved because they won’t work.

John Dueker
August 27, 2021 9:45 pm

Imagine China with a gigawatt microwave or laser! They could give any city the Havana Syndrome.

They won’t need to bother with bio weapons any more.

Does this fall into the militarization of space? They already drop uncontrolled debris.

niceguy
August 27, 2021 10:02 pm

An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies says that among the mechanisms the committee considered, directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases, especially in individuals with the distinct early symptoms.

https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2020/12/new-report-assesses-illnesses-among-us-government-personnel-and-their-families-at-overseas-embassies

Maybe the solar energy system already is working already.

Ed Zuiderwijk
August 27, 2021 10:21 pm

Working for the communists? Like von Braun for the you-known-whos? Not if you are really clever.

Steve Richards
August 27, 2021 11:45 pm

Ideal way of zapping comms and spy satellites in low earth orbit!

niceguy
Reply to  Steve Richards
August 28, 2021 12:48 pm

Or a way to jam Starlink-style services over China.

Rusty
August 28, 2021 2:24 am

Pie in the sky stuff – literally.

ozspeaksup
August 28, 2021 3:24 am

give them a few yrs and it will be another mil setup and weapons base FFS!

Alex
August 28, 2021 4:50 am

How much power can solar power satellites deliver?
The power range of the concepts for SPS is from a few tens of MW to several hundred of GW. Just for comparison purposes, a modern standard nuclear power plant delivers about 1 GW and the energy need for Europe in 2020 is estimated to be about 500 GW. If we can come close to the theoretical transmission efficiencies via electromagnetic waves (50-60%) then we could produce around 400W electricity per square meter on Earth receivers, which is about two to three times the amount we could receive from the same area of terrestrial PV panel. Furthermore, this would be produced continuously, day and night.

Put simple mirrors in space and PV panels on the Earth.

fred101
Reply to  Alex
August 28, 2021 7:08 am

Finally, someone with some objective information about this concept, which was outlined in 2002 in a review of ways forward for the future. No one ever looks at the history of these approaches, what has made inroads since, and how large the actual amount of energy generation in comparison to the piddling magnitude generated today by solar and wind, always discussed in terms of its % rate of growth, a number that is impressive, but still yields small numbers in comparison to carbon-based generation projections for 2050. No, this satellite concept is not driven by supplying large amounts of energy to the earth but the concept is a “natural ” for acquiring sufficient power fluxes from local capacitance storage onboard satellite systems for laser and microwave weaponry to interdict continental missile systems. No microwave transmission of large gigawatt levels is likely.
see: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/298/5595

Olen
August 28, 2021 6:55 am

The US exported its industrial power to China for cheap labor. Everything China has is either given to them or stolen. That was not neglect but purposeful.

The US gave China the rocket propulsion and guidance systems and who knows what they got from Russia that put them into space. Pardon the sarcasm but China’s advances have been on a silver platter and back alley deals.

Lil-Mike
August 28, 2021 7:58 am

Or they may be building a space based weapon. One could do a super melt on ants from space with that thing.

Shanghai Dan
August 28, 2021 8:32 am

Power station in space?

That’s gonna take a LONG transmission cable…

🙂

Gordon A. Dressler
August 28, 2021 10:51 am

It’s time for a reality check on the proposed Chinese powersats . . . nothing new here, all these issues were surfaced previously when the US seriously examined the engineering issues related to this concept . . . oh, several decades ago. Not much has changed since then, excluding increases is solar cell conversion efficiencies.

Here are the major problems with powersats today:

— Large solar collector area required: assuming one wants to use solar cells for the simplicity and reliability of converting solar energy directly to DC electricity which is then converted to microwave energy that is beamed to a receiving antenna on Earth’s surface, and optimistically assuming a solar cell deliverable conversion efficiency of 30% (yes, I am aware the some laboratory investigations of multi-junction concentrator solar cells have achieved efficiencies up to 47%), to achieve 1 MWe continuous output would require a solar array area equivalent to a circle 56 m (183 ft) in diameter that is always maintained normal to (i.e., facing) the sun. The capability to deploy such a large solar array, or multiple arrays, from a single satellite does exist . . . with a satellite the size of ISS in LEO!
Also, note that today the best flexible solar arrays have solar-to-electrical conversion efficiencies of only about 24%.
Now, imagine how much worse the problems will be with a collector sized for a 1 GWe powersat.

— Rapid degradation of flexible solar arrays in LEO space environment: the flexible solar arrays on ISS have be found to degrade in terms of power output efficiency at a rate of about 2.7% per year due to the space radiation environment (exposure to EM spectrum and to high energy particulate radiation). The same, likely worse, would be expected for MEO and GEO satellites. However, the non-flexible, thick glass-cover type of solar cells (much heavier in comparison) have been found to degrade at a slower rate, something around 1% per year, in the space radiation environment at GEO altitude.

— Orbital mechanics inherently leads to inefficient system design: if the powersat is not placed in a geostationary orbit, it will be faced with the problem of having to continuously and very precisely steer it’s microwave antenna to one or more receiving antennas on the surface of Earth, or alternatively it will suffer periods of power transmission blackout even if placed into a north-south polar orbit. On the other hand, LEO and MEO satellite altitudes enable much smaller microwave radiation beam sizes at Earth’s surface compared to that required for transmissions from geostationary altitude distances.
If the powersat is placed into a geostationary orbit (a hugely expensive proposition compared to LEO or MEO placement), it can use a simple fixed antenna (relative to satellite attitude) to beam down microwave energy, but due to the inherent antenna beam radiation distribution pattern and inherent beam divergence with distance, the increased range from earth’s surface means the energy will be spread over much larger area at Earth’s surface. Therefore a huge, necessarily expensive, receiving antenna array is required. This increased “beam size” also means that more microwave energy will be absorbed during transmission through Earth’s atmosphere, leading to a decrease in overall power transmission efficiency.

— Additional inefficiencies: I haven’t even touched on additional power conversion inefficiencies associated with (a) satellite conversion of DC power to microwave transmitted power, (b) ground receiving antenna absorption of transmitted power adjusted for finite antenna size and beam distribution pattern {ref: reciprocity theorem}, (c) ground conversion of received microwave power to AC power suitable for output to “the grid”.
I would not be surprised if these inefficiencies amounted to a net loss of 30% of electric power that was obtained at the satellite level.

Additional issues for solar powersats are summarized at http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2017/ph240/long2/ .

gbaikie
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
August 28, 2021 12:42 pm

The powersats are like making L-5 colony from Earth.
They might work if powersats made electrical power for space use- as making it
possible to have all sever farms in Earth orbit.
Maybe that’s China doing- it allows complete control over the internet.

niceguy
Reply to  gbaikie
August 28, 2021 9:57 pm

“Maybe that’s China doing”

What? The L5 colony?

gbaikie
Reply to  niceguy
August 31, 2021 1:31 am

Server farms, though better word is Data centers:
“Data centers can be thought of as the “brains” of the internet. Their role is to process, store, and communicate the data behind the myriad information services we rely upon every day, whether it be streaming video, email, social media, online collaboration, or scientific computing.”

Or it seems to me at some point data centers will be in orbit, but probably not anytime soon. But anyhow, they do need a lot of electrical power.
And a problem on Earth is cooling them and space they would have that similar issue- or space is not cold as some imagine it is.
But if electrical power in space is cheap, then one probably resolve the cooling issue.

michael hart
August 28, 2021 12:54 pm

“Building a solar power station in space sounds very sci-fi, but the reality is also not easy.”

Worse than that, what can they possibly do with it? The most strenuous energy demands are those involved with launch and reaching orbit. You can garner all the energy you can imagine once in orbit, but that doesn’t help you get up there.

James Beaver
August 28, 2021 2:28 pm

China says its just a power generation platform. Yeah, sure it is.

What it really is is a huge directed energy weapon platform. A gigawatt microwave laser would be pretty serious.

August 29, 2021 5:35 pm

If they can beam power to an antenna they can beam power anywhere, i. e. A weapon. We could never build such a thing , imagine the environmental impact statement and the safety analysis reports.

Wharfplank
August 30, 2021 11:19 am

This is the result of regulation, taxation, environmentalism and anti-nationalism…which political party is that?

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