China’s Tiangong space station, recently completed after docking with the Mengtian module, will participate in an important experiment. It provides long-distance transmission of energy from a solar power plant located in space. Such experiments are expected to take a new direction and give a boost to the space power race.
Yang Hong, chief designer of the station project, said at a conference in Hainan on Tuesday that Tiangong will play a key role in the implementation of the China Space Solar Power Station (SSPS) project — it will become a test platform for high-voltage electrical equipment and help with the Assembly of very large structures in space.
Speaking to engineers and scientists around the world, Yang explained that the orbital station has the resources and capabilities to demonstrate and test key technologies, accelerate technological breakthroughs, and collect data on orbital experiments for the SSPS project. According to him, among other things, new technologies will help China to achieve carbon neutrality.
According to Yang, the Chinese space station will be involved in a variety of mission-critical experiments that will turn science fiction into reality. According to him, Tiangong was originally designed and built with additional “portals” that provide connections for high-energy electrical devices. However, the generation of high-energy beams inevitably leads to the release of heat that may not be easily dissipated. Either way, the existing station is an ideal platform for experiments in orbit.
It is known that for the construction of the power plant itself it is planned to use cargo ships arriving in Tiangong – usually they are sent into the atmosphere to burn, but with the beginning of the experiment they will be used as “bricks” for the construction of solar plants. Tiangong himself will help with the construction with the help of robotic manipulator arms.
Initially, a small project will be implemented, the power plant will be placed 100 km higher than the main train station – a pilot project will be used to test basic technologies, including the transmission of microwave beams to propel satellites with high-power lasers.
China wants to organize energy transfer to Earth in the coming years. A small power plant to power military outposts should be operational in the 2030s and commercial power generation should begin in the 2050s. It is known that late last month there was news about the US launch of the first prototype space solar power plant in December.
In addition, the team of China’s orbital solar energy project shared its details in China’s Space Science and Technology magazine in June. It is known that it will be a full-scale solar power plant, which will be a 1 km wide structure capable of transmitting energy through gigawatt microwaves from a distance of 36,000 km to Earth. Unlike terrestrial solar power plants, which only operate during the day, the new project can operate 24 hours a day and store energy when it is night in China.
A power plant in geostationary orbit will be able to send a microwave beam to almost anywhere in the world and provide power, including military equipment and distant outposts, according to the SCMP publication, and some researchers speculate stories that such technology directly uses can be used as a weapon. It is known that the United States, the European Union, Great Britain, Japan and other countries are already working on developing similar solutions. Scientists have not yet agreed on whether high-energy radiation can damage communications, human health and the environment.
According to some studies on microwaves, almost the same frequencies used by Wi-Fi routers are definitely safe for humans as long as they are not in the zone of direct energy reception. Still, it is not known for certain how the stability of a narrow beam can be maintained at a distance of tens of thousands of kilometers. In addition, some scientists suspect that the intense transfer of energy from space to Earth can damage the ionosphere, which will lead to literally unpredictable consequences for the Earth’s ecology.