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China is planning to build a solar power plant in space by 2028

Professional Engineering

(Credit: Nasa)
(Credit: Nasa)

The first attempt to harvest solar power from space could be launched as soon as 2028, according to a paper by Chinese scientists working on the project.

In that year, two years ahead of schedule, a satellite will be launched to test wireless power transmission from space to the ground, according to the paper published in the journal Chinese Space Science and Technology and reported by the South China Morning Post. 

The researchers said the satellite will convert solar energy into microwaves or lasers and then beam it to various targets on the surface from 250 miles above the Earth. 

The power generated will reach 10 kilowatts, which is only enough to meet the needs of a few households. But the technology could be scaled up and become a key contributor to decarbonisation, according to co-author Dong Shiwei of the National Key Laboratory of Science and Technology. 

The timeline set out by the researchers sees a high-power experiment launching in 2030, with a gigawatt level space solar satellite in orbit by 2050. 

China isn't the only country attempting to harness the power of the sun in space. The British government is thought to be considering a £16bn project to put a pilot plant in space by 2035, for instance, while the US military is reportedly testing related technology too. 

Although there are huge engineering challenges, space-based solar has a few advantages over earth-based solar panels, which are contributing an increasing amount to global energy needs. First: space-based solar would be able to generate electricity continuously, regardless of time of day or weather.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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