Solar power from outer space: a real sustainable solution?

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Space-based sustainable energy must be embraced to secure the future of the planet, according to The Space Review, since countries like the US lack “sufficient suitable land to utilise terrestrial renewable energy to replace fossil fuels”.

The space exploration experts believe that while the US will utilise terrestrial domestic renewable energy to the extent it is politically acceptable, many factors will likely limit their scale-up, and therefore only space-based sustainable energy will enable the country to practically transition away from fossil fuels.

Industries such as space solar, space mining, and spacefaring logistics must be established, according to the publication, to ensure energy security in the post-fossil fuel age.

The National Space Society explains how the energy production would work: “Space Solar Power gathers energy from sunlight in space and transmits it wirelessly to earth.

“The solar energy available in space is literally billions of times greater than we use today. The lifetime of the sun is an estimated 4-5 billion years, making space solar power a truly long-term energy solution. As Earth receives only one part in 2.3 billion of the sun’s output, space solar power is by far the largest potential energy source available, dwarfing all others combined.”

Japan has already taken steps to make the technology a reality, with Mitsubishi carrying out a successful ground test of a system which collects solar power from orbit and beams it back to earth.

Yasuyuki Fukumuro, from JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said that while the enormous costs will make it very difficult for Japan to make the project happen independently, space solar “will provide a great boost to the world’s energy supply because power can be generated as long as the sun is there. So, in that sense, our daily life will directly benefit from the technology because space solar power systems will satisfy the demand for electrical energy.”

American Dr Peter Glaser first came up with the idea as far back as 1968, however the project was abandoned in America by the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

The current plan is to transmit the energy to earth via microwaves and lasers, and Fukumuro stressed that there are a number of safety concerns which must be overcome: “We intend to make the intensity of the energy of the microwaves similar to that of sunlight. However, it is necessary to take strong measures to ensure the safety of living organisms on earth in case they are exposed to microwave beams that are misaligned with the receiving site on the ground. Similarly, there must be strict safety measures for the use of laser beams.”

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Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Flickr

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