China is Beaming into the Space-Based Solar Power



According to TheWorldCounts, the annual global energy consumption is estimated at 580 million terajoules. Solar energy will account for 60 percent of renewable energy this year ahead of wind and hydropower, says the International Energy Agency (IEA). Based on current policies, renewable power’s global growth is feared to lose momentum next year.

However, space-based solar energy can change that since it serves a great deal as clean energy with a capacity to provide more energy than the world consumes now and in the future. Countries are already lining up to make this happen, with China in the lead by planning to launch a solar power plant in space by 2028. This is claimed to be two years ahead of the original schedule initially proposed for the same project. Its roadmap for the launch is uncovered below.

China’s Roadmap into the Space

The journal, Chinese Space Science and Technology, says that China will send a satellite at an altitude of 400 km to convert solar energy into electrical energy and further convert that into microwave or lasers, which are planned to be transmitted to various targets on earth. This can then be converted into electricity when the planet needs it. This project will power only a few homes as it generates 10 kilowatts. However, there’s proof for this project to be scaled into a mega power source. Besides, the new plan is believed to build a full-scale power plant in four stages.

Researchers predict that a full-scale microwave beam could project about 230 watts per square meter on the ground and could be as much as direct sunlight.

Two years after the first proposed satellite launch in 2028, another more powerful satellite will be launched about 36,000 km from the earth into a geostationary orbit to conduct more experiments. By 2035, a 10-megawatt power plant is said to send energy to the military and civilians. Researchers are foretelling that two gigawatts could rise from this station’s output by 2050.

Although drawing energy through this method is claimed to be expensive, it is considered to offer more than the methods followed on earth. Here’s why it’s much needed.

Infinite Supply of Electricity

Space-based solar power has various advantages; unlike solar panels on our roofs, which can only generate electricity during the day, space-based solar power can generate electricity continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Unlike earth, the space environment does not have night and day, and the satellites only spend 72 minutes per night in the earth's shadow.

Solar panels in space can continuously create 2,000 gigawatts of power. This is 40 times the annual energy generated by a solar panel on earth. This is also several times more efficient than today's solar panels.

Despite alternative energy sources such as nuclear, coal, oil, gas, and ethanol, space-based solar power would produce zero greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power, which produces 5g CO2 eq CO2 per kWh, is the current form of energy that produces the least CO2.

Compared to nuclear power, space-based solar power produces nearly little dangerous waste for the earth’s ecosystem.

As countries are already preparing for this game, how did China get the lead in this race?

Current Position of Key Players

China, the US, and Japan are the key competitors in SBSP, and they have shown progress in terms of technological developments, partnerships, and launch plans.

China is well on its way to launching into space. Between 2021 and 2025, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation wants to deploy small to medium solar satellites into the stratosphere to harness energy in space. By 2030, China wants to generate one megawatt of electricity from space-based solar panels, and by 2050, it wants to have a commercially viable solar space station operational.


In the US, Northrop Grumman Corporation and Caltech have formed a $17.5 million partnership to create the 'Space Solar Power Initiative,' a space solar power project. The purpose of the effort was to achieve scientific and technological breakthroughs that would allow a space-based solar power system to generate electricity at a cost equivalent to present sources.

Currently, the SPS-ALPHA Mark-II idea is being developed in the US. If successful, this would allow for the construction of massive space platforms capable of delivering tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity to earth through wireless power transmissions. This will also allow for the transmission of cost-effective power to earth and on space missions.

Additionally, work on reusable launch mechanisms is progressing. If this is accomplished, we will reduce the cost of transportation to space and the overall cost of space-based solar power. SpaceX, for example, is currently developing reusable launch vehicles that they can use to send people to space.

Researchers in Japan have successfully transported electric power over long distances using microwaves. Researchers converted 1.8 kW of electric power into microwaves and transmitted them correctly to a receiver 55 meters away. This was a significant step forward in bringing SBSP closer to reality. Japan has also included space-based solar systems in its long-term space exploration plans.

While space-based solar power is an intriguing notion, we have yet to launch a system into orbit successfully. 

Why is the Progress Slow?

The cost of launching a space-based solar system is prohibitive. In fact, it is anticipated that the cost will be 100 times more than present utility costs.

One of the reasons for the high expenses is the high cost of launching the panels into space, which is primarily owing to the existing solar panels' large mass per watt generated. To put it another way, solar panels are currently too hefty per watt produced to make it feasible.

Other factors contributing to the high expenses are the general high transportation costs to space. This is due to the fact that getting all other materials to orbit would necessitate numerous space shuttle missions, and these space shuttles are not currently reusable. There is still a lot of study and engineering being done to figure out the best cost-effective approach to deploy space-based solar panels and launch systems.

Several hazards in the space environment could damage the solar panels. Space debris and intense solar radiation, for example, could cause solar panels to degrade up to eight times quicker than panels put on earth.

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