China intends to develop a solar power station in space as part of its efforts to cut down smog, greenhouse gases, and tackle energy shortage.
This plan is similar to the idea floated by Isaac Asimov in 1941 in a short fiction titled ‘Reason’ in which a space station could collect and transmit energy drawn from sun with the help of microwave beams, PTI reported, citing China’s state news agency Xinhua.
If this plan materialises, it will even surpass the Apollo project and the International Space Station in terms of scale.
The station equipped with solar panels will be a huge spacecraft on a geosynchronous orbit, 36,000km above the ground. The power produced from this station would be converted to microwaves or lasers and transmitted to a collector on Earth, reports Xinhua news agency.
According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences academician and an International Academy of Astronautics member Wang Xiji, this fiction has a scientific basis.
Wang 93, who has dedicated more than five decades on space technology research was quoted by Xinhua as saying : "An economically viable space power station would be really huge, with the total area of the solar panels reaching 5sq km to 6sq km."
This is something equivalent to 12 of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which is the largest public square in the world.
The problem with power generated from solar plants on ground is that it fluctuates with night and day and weather, however a space generator is predicted to be efficient 99% of the time.
Some countries such as US and Japan are also studying the idea of a solar power station in space. However, this plan is ridden with several hurdles. For instance, a space power station would weigh 10,000t, but few rockets can carry a payload of more than 100t to low Earth orbit.
To overcome this problem, Wang, who designed the country’s first carrier rocket over four decades ago, suggests: "We need a cheap heavy-lift launch vehicle.
"We also need to make very thin and light solar panels. The weight of the panel must be less than 200g per square metre."
China Academy of Space Technology vice-president Li Ming was quoted as saying: "China will build a space station in approximately 2020, which will open an opportunity to develop space solar power technology."