US and India Work on Harvesting Space Solar Power.

The Indian Space Research Organization and US National Space Society launched a joint forum to develop partnership in harnessing solar energy through space-based solar collectors.

Solar Power
Image by NASA. An orbiting tower of solar panels, shown extending into space, could gather power to use on Earth.

Just like a solar satellite in the 2002 Bond movie “Die Another Day”, they are planning to launch giant, possibly inflatable structures of photovoltaic arrays and antennas that catch the suns rays and create a focused microwave beam back to collectors on Earth. A special receiving antenna on the ground — called a rectenna — would then turn the microwave energy back into electricity, which would be fed into the power grid.

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Image from New Scientist. Sunlight is reflected off giant orbiting mirrors to an array of photovoltaic cells; the light is converted to electricity and then changed into microwaves, which are beamed to earth. Ground-based antennas capture the microwave energy and convert it back to electricity, which is sent to the grid.

The initiative, announced Nov. 4, is spearheaded by former president of India A.P.J. Kalam and the National Space Society, a nonprofit dedicated to making humanity a space faring civilization.

Space-based solar power has the potential to turn Earth into a “clean planet, a prosperous planet, and a happy planet,” Kalam said during a Thursday press conference announcing the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative.
Addressing the press at the National Press Club in New Delhi, Dr Kalam said, “By 2050, even if we use every available energy resource we have: clean and dirty, conventional and alternative, solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, coal, oil, and gas, the world will fall short of the energy we need.”

One of the major advantages of space-based solar energy harvesting is that it is not a ground-based solar energy resource. An array of solar panels stationed in a geostationary orbit around the world will receive sunlight for 99 percent time of the year. Plus there are no losses due to atmospheric interferences.

This partnership between the two countries is likely to gain strength as the United States has now removed some technology-transfer limitations which were forced on some scientific research organizations in India after the 1998 nuclear tests. Organizations like the ISRO and Bharat Dynamics will now have access to some sensitive and unique technology.

The U.S. military has already experimented with solar energy beaming and ways to deliver power to remote areas of the globe. For the US, the deal would potentially create thousands of jobs. For India, the project would mean huge amounts of clean energy which it could use to electrify its rural areas and help its economy to thrive.

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