China sets up laboratory to research building solar power station in space

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

China has started laboratory research to develop a solar power station in high orbit to beam potentially huge amounts of energy back to earth.

Tests to develop technology for the station are underway at a ground laboratory in Beijing, the Space and Technology Daily reported, a newspaper run by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The article quoted Zhang Bonan, the chief designer of manned space vehicles at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, as saying that work had begun on the lab project.

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The plan envisages putting a space station with a huge solar array in orbit about 35,000 km from earth.

A solar power station would potentially be able to produce huge amounts of energy as it directly receives sunlight without filtering from the earth’s atmosphere and it could operate 24 hours a day.

The laboratory leading the project at the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing was named after Qian Xuesen, the father of China’s missile and space technology programme, Zhang was quoted as saying.

China’s solar power project in space has been largely confined to designs on paper, according to previous reports, but the latest remarks by the senior space official suggest it has moved into a higher phase of development.

The technology could potentially have military applications as a weapon if high sources of energy could be beamed at earth.

No timeline was given in the newspaper report on when China might start building the orbiting solar power plant, but previous media reports have suggested it might be launched between 2030 and 2050.

Researchers in other countries such as the United States and Japan had proposed similar designs since the 1970s, but no project has come to fruition due to the enormous costs and technical challenges involved.

These include finding a method to beam the high amount of energy back to earth.

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The longest distance for the wireless transmission of energy was reported by researchers in Japan last year. They only managed to beam 1.8 kilowatts of energy to a small receiver 50 metres away.

Zhang told state media at the meeting of China’s legislature in Beijing this month that one breakthrough had been made through the design of “multiple rotary joints”, but he did not elaborate on the nature of the technology.