The superpower has scheduled the craft for 2028, when a test satellite orbiting our planet at 400km will test the concept.
The satellite is expected to convert solar energy into microwaves or lasers before transmitting that energy to fixed locations on Earth.
While the initial test will only reach 10 kilowatts of power – enough to meet the power needs of a handful of homes – the technology could apparently be scaled up significantly. The first craft will be assembled on Earth before being sent to space, but future iterations will be assembled completely outside the atmosphere.
If the test is successful, it could be “an effective contributor to achieve peak carbon and neutrality goals,” said Professor Dong Shiwei of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology‘s National Key Laboratory of Science and Technology on Space Microwave. .
By 2035, a large-scale solar cell array, with high power transmission, is expected to be completed – capable of radiating power over a distance of 36,000 km. A more complex array of solar cells, with voltage between 10 and 20 kilovolts and two gigawatts of power, will be assembled by 2050 if production goes as planned.
It’s much the same as a nuclear power plant on Earth, with the expectation that commercial assembly costs will have been reduced over time.
However, Professor Dong said the technological challenges of such a craft would be unprecedented. This would require an antenna hundreds or thousands of meters long that could withstand the movement of solar winds, gravity and thrusters.
Additionally, keeping components cool, penetrating the atmosphere in all weathers, and protecting it from space debris – all of which are only becoming more of a concern due to increased commercial space launches and a lackluster effort by world governments to limit space-clogging litter around the planet – creating new challenges.
A researcher based in Beijing, quoted by the South China Morning Post who reported on the announcement, said that while solar farms in space could produce power much more efficiently than on Earth, “such huge infrastructure in space could put many countries on edge. ease, especially those who don’t have the technology or ability to build one”.
High-powered lasers could also be used to jam communications or damage equipment if used as an energy weapon – which has been proposed by defense scientists. Besides China, the British government, in conjunction with European defense contractors, and the US military have considered similar proposals for solar power plants.
It is possible that these efforts will be launched in 2035 and 2025, respectively, which raises concerns about the lack of international legislation protecting countries from the risks of this energy arms race.