"All the World's a Stage We Pass Through" R. Ayana

Friday, 23 May 2014

Japan aims to beam solar energy down from orbit

Japan aims to beam solar energy down from orbit

Concept artwork shows how an array of mirrors could collect solar energy and transmit it to the ground. Credit: © Mafic Studios, Inc

by Paul Sutherland

The Japanese space agency JAXA is developing a revolutionary concept to put “power stations” in orbit to capture sunlight and beam it to Earth.

The country has been looking for new power sources following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011, that destroyed much of the north-east of the country and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Many of the country’s nuclear reactors were closed due to stricter safety regulations after the emergency. Now JAXA is aiming to set up a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) by 2030. An array of mirrors would sit in geostationary orbit to collect solar energy and then transmits it to a power plant on the ground via microwaves or laser beams. There it could be used to generate electricity and hydrogen.

Proponents of the technology say that it would provide continuous energy without any worry that resources would be depleted. It would be unaffected by the time of day or weather and would provide environmentally friendly, clean energy.

Interestingly, the idea is not a new one. An American, Dr Peter Glaser, designed a similar concept in 1968 to deploy large solar panels in space to generate power and convert it into microwaves to transmit to the ground. Following studies by NASA and the US Department of Energy, the project was deemed too costly and it was never developed.

Similar studies have been carried out in Europe. The idea is also reminiscent of a Russian plan in the 1990s to use mirrors to beam sunlight to the ground at night. This had astronomers and environmentalists up in arms because of the light pollution it would have caused. The Japanese concept is different because there would be no stray light emitted from the beam.

How the solar beam from space will be received by a power planet on Earth.
How the solar beam from space will be received by a power planet on Earth. Credit: JAXA

Yasuyuki Fukumuro is leading research and planning for SSPS. He says: “We have not yet decided whether to use microwaves or laser beams with SSPS, or whether we will somehow combine them. We are currently conducting ground-based experiments to find the most efficient way to transmit energy.

“Regardless of which transmission technology we use, when we collect sunlight from outside the Earth’s atmosphere, we can get a continuous supply of it, with almost no influence from the weather, the seasons, or time of day, allowing very efficient collection of solar energy.

“And since the energy source is the Sun, it’s an endlessly renewable resource - it won’t run out as long as the Sun is there. Also, because the power is generated in space and carbon dioxide is emitted only at the receiving site, emissions within the Earth’s atmosphere can be greatly reduced, which makes this technology very friendly to the environment.”

Fukumuro admits the system has its challenges. He says: “When transmitting power by microwaves, a significant technological challenge is how to control the direction, and transmit it with pinpoint accuracy from a geostationary orbit to a receiving site on the ground. Transmitting microwaves from an altitude of 36,000 km to a flat surface 3 km in diameter will be like threading a needle.”

A video demonstrates how the Space Solar Power System will work. Credit: JAXA

Fukumuro suggests the technology will also be useful in disaster situations. In the event of a blackout, a collecting dish could be unfolded and deployed to receive microwaves from space for conversion into electrical energy.

JAXA is working with a collective of machining and engineering companies called Kyoto Shisaku Net to develop the array of reflectors that would be lifted into orbit by reusable shuttle-like spacecraft and then assemble themselves.

JAXA Engineer and Senior Researcher Katsuto Kisara says: “The biggest problem we’ve encountered with the project is developing solar mirrors that are incredibly lightweight. I think that there is certainly a way to do it, but it has presented quite the challenge.”

From Sen @ http://www.sen.com/news/japan-aims-to-beam-solar-energy-down-from-orbit

 Aviation Program Group


Advanced Mission Research Group


Space Solar Power Systems (SSPS) are designed to collect solar energy with a large-scale solar collector installed in outer space and transmit the solar energy to Earth as either microwave or laser energy, which is converted into electric power for use. The Advanced Mission Research Group researches energy transmission technologies that use microwaves and lasers, large-scale structure construction technologies for outer space and other technologies for the SSPS.


 Solar energy is regarded as a stable, low-CO2-emission energy source for the future. The SSPS is designed to transmit about 1 GW of solar energy per station (equivalent to the amount of electric power generated by a nuclear power station) from outer space to Earth at a low cost in order to be converted into electric power for terrestrial use.
The Advanced Mission Research Group conducts experiments on energy transmission using microwaves and lasers between ground locations, and on the assembly of largescale structures with the aim of establishing the SSPS technologies.

Research objectives


1. Research on Microwave Energy Transmission Technology

Fig. 1 
 Fig. 1 Test-fabricated 5.8-GHz-band Class F amplifier

In order to realize the microwave-SSPS (M-SSPS), it is very important to enhance the efficiency of microwave power transmission units and to control the beam direction of antennas with high accuracy.

In fiscal 2007, the group test-fabricated a 5.8-GHz-band Class F amplifier using a GaN semiconductor device fabricated experimentally in fiscal 2006 (Fig. 1) and evaluated the performance.

As a result, the group achieved the highest efficiency: a drain efficiency of 76.5%, a power added efficiency (PAE) of 68.7%, and an output power of 2.45 W. Since fiscal 2008, we have researched equipment to control the beam direction of antennas with high accuracy. We plan to perform a kW-class power transmission experiment (transmission distance of 100 m) in fiscal 2013.


2. Research on Laser Energy Transmission Technology


Fig. 2 
 Fig. 2 Laser transmission test up to a distance of 500 meters
(Kakuda Space Center)

Laser beam technology for direct conversion from solar energy as well as laser energy transmission technology are very important in order to realize the laser-SSPS (L-SSPS).

The group is researching enhanced efficiency and improved output power of a solar-pumped solid-state laser using Nd/Cr:YAG ceramic laser material in addition to long-distance transmission at the 500-meter laser transmission test facility (Kakuda Space Center) (Fig. 2), and weather dependency of atmospheric transmission.

 3. Research on Large-Scale Structure Construction Technology

 Fig. 3

Fig. 3 Test-fabricated inflatable structure

SSPS require a large structure to be assembled in orbit. A 2.5 km × 3.5 km elliptical condensing mirror, for example, must be assembled for the M-SSPS.

In order to establish technology for assembling such large structures, the group studies lightweight structural forms such as inflatable structures (Fig. 3).

From Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency @ http://www.ard.jaxa.jp/eng/research/advancedmrg/amrg-index.html

Space Based Solar Power

SBSP From Concept to Reality

The concept of SBSP was theorized over 40 years ago by renowned scientist Dr. Peter Glaser. Since then, in response to periodic energy crises, the idea has been re-evaluated from time to time by the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, major aerospace companies and countries such as Japan and India. Their studies generally concluded that there is no technical barrier to implementing SBSP; rather, the principal impediment has been economics -- the ability to provide SBSP at a cost that is competitive with other energy sources.

Solar power satellites are large arrays of photovoltaic panels assembled in orbit, which use very low power radio waves to transmit solar power to large receiving antennas on Earth. The resulting power can either supplement, or be a substitute for, conventional electricity sources. Several of the technologies required to build a working SBSP satellite have, in principle, already been developed---and some of the component technology is already in use across a variety of sectors.

The advantage of placing solar collectors in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), about 36,000 kilometers above Earth, is that it uses the constant and unobstructed output of the Sun, unaffected by the Earth's day/night cycle.

By contrast, ground-based solar power provides a vital and valuable addition to the Earth's energy needs, but is limited by these factors:

  • Weather

  • Variable seasons

  • Atmospheric blocking of sunlight

  • Poor direct sunlight at higher and lower latitudes

  • Expensive and limited storage capacity

Because none of these factors applies to SBSP, an SBSP cell can provide an estimated 6-8 times more power than a comparable solar cell on the Earth's surface.

A long-range wireless power transmission test was conducted in mid-2008, successfully transmitting a microwave beam (similar to the kind that would be used to transmit energy from space to Earth) between two Hawaiian Islands across 148 kilometers---more than the distance from the surface of the Earth to the boundary of space. This test demonstrated the technical feasibility of transmitting SBSP to Earth.

The frequency of radio waves sent down from an SBSP satellite would be comparable to cell phone, wireless Internet, or cordless phone signals. Based on several studies done by NASA, this transmission is safe to human, animal, and plant life near the receiving antennas---large structures designed to convert the radio waves into usable electricity.

These antennas would be placed in areas with limited access to mainline grid power, giving rural and developing areas a much-needed power alternative. They might also be placed close to main power grids to provide a substantial amount of grid power.

Recently, as efficiencies of solar cells and other core systems have increased, and the price of (and demand for) energy has risen, SBSP has become more commercially viable. Factors that have contributed to this development include:

  • Efficiency and mass of photovoltaic cells (becoming more efficient and lighter, as well as cheaper)

  • Wholesale electricity cost increases

  • Demand for electricity (increasing rapidly)

  • The availability and cost of commercial space lift transportation (becoming cheaper, faster, and more reliable, with billions of development dollars now being invested)

  • The identification of additional, easily accessible revenue streams for SBSP

With these new efficiencies and price points, the cost of a viable SBSP solution is substantially lower than just a few years ago.

From Space Energy @ http://www.spaceenergy.com/SBSP/SBSP_Overview.htm

For more information about related concepts and technologies see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/smi2le
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