4 March 2013, 15:09

Russia plans giant solar power station to orbit Earth

Russia plans giant solar power station to orbit Earth

Russia is thinking of building a giant solar power station capable of collecting energy and beaming it to Earth. This idea was put forward by Central Scientific Research institute for Engineering, a subsidiary of the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos.

The concept of such a power station was formulated by Peter Glasier in the US in 1968. It is aimed at beaming energy to Earth using giant solar panels. To generate necessary power, the panels should have an area of several square kilometers. The power would be converted to electricity onboard the spacecraft and sent to wherever it is needed on Earth by a large microwave-transmitting antenna, and then fed into a power grid.

The scientific research institute suggests using lasers instead of microwaves because radio beams are difficult to focus, and an area of several square kilometers will be needed for the receiving antenna. In case of a laser beam this area would be ten times smaller. However, at present, there are no such powerful lasers, although many infrared lasers distributed over the panel could be used instead. Their radiation would be put together and beamed to Earth.

The US, Japan, Europe and China plan to build solar power stations between 2030 and 2040. It is not surprising that Russia will join them, says Academician Alexander Zheleznyakov.

“Russia should study this problem. If energy from space is cheaper, it is beneficial because Earth has been experiencing an energy deficit. There is a need to think of the future. We are building power plants on Earth, and if we can build a solar power station in space, we should not miss this opportunity,” Alexander Zheleznyakov said.

However, deputy editor-in-chief of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki” magazine Igor Lisov insists that this is a beautiful idea but it needs huge investment. Consequently, it is not feasible.

“There is a need to watch the situation with open eyes without indulging in wishful thinking. None of the countries is conducting serious work that could shift to experimental studies of supplying energy from space,” Igor Lisov said.

The project is based on the myth that mankind will exhaust energy in the near future. This will be true if the only sources of energy remain oil and gas. But mankind will probably develop other sources of energy including thermonuclear energy. With the appearance of such power plants, there will be no need to build space solar power stations, says Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics Andrei Ionin.

“It will be very expensive to place a power station in orbit and exploit it. It may also have a negative impact on ecology. We do not know what could happen to Earth if a laser beam turns the wrong way. Perhaps, it may burn the ozone layer. If this happens, the consequences will cost a hundred times more than the price of the power generated. I believe that the Scientific Research Institute for Engineering should study reports by ecologists,” Andrei Ionin said.

This project will not be implemented in the near future. However, it’s necessary to study the problem, experts say. This may breed new technical solutions, such as more effective lasers or solar batteries.

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