The image above is not a promotion for a science fiction movie but a vision of what the future could hold. It’s a picture of an ambition to reach for the stars – well not quite, earth’s orbit – and tap into sunshine 24/7 for solar energy. The energy captured via the orbiting spacecraft would be converted to radio waves and transmitted to earth based energy receivers known as ‘rectennas’.
The technology would supply continuous power, with the efficiency of the space based technology orbiting 35,800 km above Earth exceed land-based solar PV panels.
That’s a lot to digest and raises as many questions as it does controversy.
According to reports this technological trailblazer being steered by US-Australia joint venture Solar Space Technologies (SST) could be up and transmitting by 2028.
SST director John Mankins who authored the book The Case for Space Solar Power says "The nation that develops space solar power first will have the upper hand … if one country dominates the development and establishes the standards they will have a very strong first-mover advantage in the industry."
The NASA and the California Institute of Technology physicist was referring to the race with China which is dedicating significant resources to a similar project to generate solar in earth’s orbit.
Melbourne architect Serdar Baycan who co-owns SST with Mankins told reporters SST has been in discussions with business and government figures in Australia and the US.
"We have requested of our government to make it a national priority to leapfrog other nations to become the first nation, in partnership with the US, to implement this tech and set the standard," he said.
The goal is "to set the standard in a way to where we are able to influence the peaceful use of this technology."
The cost of the project costs that would involve hundreds of launches of all the necessary parts would run into billions of dollars.
From what we read, today’s launch costs are estimated at $US1500 ($2200) per kilogram, well down on the $US20,000 ($30,000) per kg of a decade ago.
Structures would stretch to 6 kilometres and sit on an axis 13 kilometres long.
Australia would play a significant role with much of the construction taking place here.