The dream of launching satellites into space to harness the sun’s energy and beam it back to earth is looking increasingly realistic as Japan researches satellites that convert solar light into lasers, which then beams it down onto a facility that converts it into clean, usable power and U.S. companies aggressively research networks of satellite-based photovoltaic cells.
PowerSat Corp.has filed for patents that it says could overcome two of the major hurdles facing satellite solar technology. The company said it is developing technology that could link as many as 300 satellites together in space, allowing satellites covered in photovoltaic cells to beam energy to one big satellite, which would then transmit the energy to earth. The second technology would help lower the high cost of launching satellites into orbit by using solar-powered electronic thrusters to send the satellites from low-earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit 22,000 miles above the earth.
The Pentagon has studied solar satellite technology for decades, but has not aggressively pursued the program because of its high costs. But PowerSat said in a news release, “The underlying technology components are proven and systems will be deployable within a decade,”according to the Everett, Washington-based company.
One of he latest and greatest way to generate energy is to launch plates made of chromium and neodymium into orbit, which then convert 42% of solar light into lasers, which then shoots down onto a facility that converts it into clean, usable power.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Osaka University are working together to develop the device, which converts sunlight into laser-light with four times the efficiency of any previous attempt. According to a report out of Tokyo, the team is working on Space-based solar power systems, which can collect sunlight in space and then convert it into laser light, which is then transmitted to Earth and used for electricity.
The project will work by storing sunlight-based energy in plates made from a sintered powder of metals, such as chromium and neodymium. When weak laser light is shined onto the plate, the stored energy is transferred to the laser where its strength is amplified by a factor of four. In one test, a 0.5-watt laser was amplified to 180-watts by the plates. Scientists have thus far been able to garner 40-percent of the solar energy produced, and they hope to have a system ready for satellite mounting by 2030.
The project has another clear advantage over terrestrial solar projects in that it will not be subject to cloudy conditions or nighttime darkness. The device will be able to collect solar power 24 hours a day. By improving the solar-to-laser efficiency and having solar collectors from 100 to 200 meters long, they'll be able to match a 1-gigawatt nuclear power plant. At the very least, they’ll have created a giant death-ray useful for enslaving the rest of the world. If you go to JAXA’s home page there’s currently a friendly headline “Using Satellites to Save Lives”, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a ploy to divert us from their death-ray project. Either way, should be pretty darn cool!
Posted by Casey Kazan with Rebecca Sato.
Related Galaxy Posts: