The first power plant in space. Expensive fuel way

The recent announcement by the British government went unnoticed. On the one hand, this may come as a surprise, because if the London-backed project succeeds, the whole world is waiting energy revolution. On the other hand, it’s easy to dismiss similar ads as mere fantasy.

The British government, represented by Science Minister George Freeman, announced on March 10 that it would support the initiative to build an orbital satellite Power plant solar, which is in orbit energy would send to earth in the form of radio waves. The report commissioned by the British authorities indicates that the project involves the construction of 2 gigawatts in space Power plant may be ready by 2039

The British are convinced that it is a space energy Solar can be a key part of reaching the UK – and most Western countries – goal of net zero emissions. The project is supported by the United Nations. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said “advances in science have allowed us to take a giant leap forward. We want transformational change.”

The costs of the project will be high – they will be comparable to the HS2 high-speed line, currently under construction in the UK, which could cost up to £98bn. But the benefits will be even greater. Big enough for a real orbital race to begin energy. China has already started work on a new super heavy rocket, the main task of which would be to launch modules from similar facilities.

But how would that work Power plant solar in space? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this technology?

Most space system designs energy solar requires the construction of a huge satellite equipped with solar panels. Panels they do energy electricwhich is then transmitted wirelessly to Earth using high frequency radio waves. The terrestrial antenna, called the rectenna, is used to convert radio waves into energy electricwhich is then delivered to the network energy.

Power plant it would not be in low Earth orbit. Instead, it would orbit our planet remotely so it’s always within reach of the sun’s rays. So it could continuously produce energy electric. This would give it a huge advantage over Earth systems. energy solar they can produce energy electric only during the day, in good weather.

The scale of the project will be enormous. Power plant With a power of 2 gigawatts, according to current technology, it should be about 1.7 km in diameter (the International Space Station is just over 100 meters) and weigh about 2,000 tons. And that’s still a small thing compared to an antenna that would receive the power supply: the same Power plant would require a receiver occupying a rectangle of 7 kilometers by 13 kilometers.

Contrary to appearances, this is not fantasy. Spacecraft and interplanetary probes use cells photovoltaic for decades, and their work has been one of the factors that has brought the price of this technology down so much today that it is possible to mini power plants install on every house. Also the transmission technology energy it has been tested using radio waves, although so far it has been transmitted that way electricity can power at most one bulb.

Most orbital designs Power plant it is based on a modular design in which dozens of solar modules must be assembled in orbit by robots. Transport of all these elements however, going to space would currently be difficult, expensive, and impact the environment.

The first challenge is the weight of the solar panels. Today, the cost of each kilogram transported into space is in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. The development of ultralight cells is therefore a priority for the success of the project. Even in such a case, even build one Power plant will require dozens of space rocket launches. Developing new, less expensive rockets, like Elon Musk’s giant SpaceX-prepared Starship, would be a huge step on the road to space. electricity.

The same Elon Musk, however, became an inspiration for a solution that could allow similar solutions to be built Power plant much faster and cheaper. Its global wireless Internet service, Starlink, uses a constellation of thousands of relatively small mass-produced satellites. Its SpaceX produces about 30 tons of satellites per month and is on track to potentially produce 40,000 satellites. satellites within five years. This significantly reduces the manufacturing cost of space devices. A constellation mini power plant sending the generated power to a central relay which then transmits it to the ground would be cheaper, easier to use and more resistant to damage.

Another challenge is the efficiency of wireless transmission energy. Download energy long distances – in this case, from a solar satellite in space to Earth – is difficult. Based on current technology, only a small fraction is collected energy solar would reach the Earth.

Despite the challenges, the first pilot projects are already underway. The Space Solar Power project in the United States is developing high-efficiency solar cells and a conversion and transmission system optimized for use in space. The United States Naval Research Laboratory tested the solar module and the conversion system in 2020 energy in the space. Meanwhile, China is already building a receiving station in Bishan and intends to create the first prototype Power plant by 2035.

The race is not entirely friendly, as everyone knows that the first to master this technology will gain a colossal advantage. According to some estimates, in 2100 up to 80 percent. everywhere electricity produced by humanity could come precisely from these orbital platforms.

“Just as the military, economic and diplomatic control of Middle Eastern oil has influenced world events for the past 80 years, so has the control of space platforms. solar energy will dominate space activities in this century,” James Michael Snead, president of the Spacefaring Institute, told Space.com.

And gambling is about huge sums of money. The global demand for energy expected to grow nearly 50% by 2050. No major investments or big projects like orbital power stationsit will be difficult to meet this demand without contributing to further global warming.

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