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Japan picks up the baton on space solar power

Five years ago, PES reported on plans to build a space solar array that had the potential to beam back massive amounts of power to earth. Back then, the ‘beam’ was a considerable technical sticking point, but it seems that the technology has moved on considerably, says Pete Martin…

Japan intends to follow in the footsteps of Nikola Tesla by sending its first solar-panel-equipped satellite into space that could wirelessly beam Gigawatt-strong streams of power down to earth. To put that into context, a Gigawatt is what a mid-size nuclear power station produces, so each stream would provide enough to power nearly 300,000 homes eco-efficiently.

In orbit, the solar satellites bypass a great many of the restrictions of ground based PV arrays; there are no cloudy days, very few zoning laws, and the cold ambient temperature is ideal for causing the least amount of weathering and degradation in performance.

The project is being led by The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, but has also received major backing from Mitsubishi and designer IHI, in addition to research teams from 14 other countries.

Initially the project aims to launch a small satellite fitted with solar panels in the next few years, and test beaming the electricity from space through the ionosphere, the outermost layer of the earth’s atmosphere. The final, full-fledged satellites are expected to have a surface area of four square kilometres each, and be able to transmit power via microwaves to a base station on Earth.


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