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China mulls solar power station in space

Construction of an early experimental space power plant has begun in the inland city of Chongqing

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China, China Academy of Space Technology Corporation, Pang Zhihao, California Institute of Technology, Li Ming

China is taking its renewable energy push to new heights, with scientists revealing plans to build the first solar power station in space.

A solar power station orbiting the earth at 36,000 kilometres could tap the energy of the sun's rays without interference from the atmosphere, or seasonal and night-time loss of sunlight, Chinese media reported.

Construction of an early experimental space power plant has begun in the inland city of Chongqing, China's Science and Technology Daily reported on its front page, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

A researcher from the China Academy of Space Technology Corporation, Pang Zhihao, said a space solar power station held the promise of providing "an inexhaustible source of clean energy for humans".

It could reliably supply energy 99 per cent of the time, at six-times the intensity of solar farms on earth, he said.

Chinese scientists first plan to build and launch small to medium-sized solar power stations to be launched into the stratosphere to generate electricity, between 2021 and 2025.

The next step will be a Megawatt-level space solar power station, slated for construction in 2030.

The China Academy of Space Technology vice-president Li Ming was quoted as saying China is expected to become the first country to build a space solar power station with practical value.

Pang said technical challenges to be overcome include the weight of a power station, expected to be 1000 tonnes, greater than 400 tonnes of the International Space Station.

Researchers are examining whether a space factory using robots and 3D printing technology could construct the power station in space, avoiding the need to launch a heavy structure from earth.

Solar energy would be converted to electricity and a microwave or laser beam would transmit the energy to earth.

The long-term safety impact of microwave radiation from a space power station on the atmosphere and earth's ecology would also need to be studied, the researchers said.

In addition to overcoming the problems of polluting fossil fuels on earth, a solar power station could assist China's deep space exploration program by providing energy supply, the report noted.

Last year, scientists from the California Institute of Technology said that they had created a prototype capable of harnessing and transmitting solar energy from space using light weight tiles. Japan, India and European scientists are also working on ideas for solar based power in space.

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