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Japan outlines ambitious plans for space-based solar station: 'Gearing up to test ... next year'

"We can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster."

"We can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

In recent years, humans have managed to harvest huge amounts of energy from the sun using solar panels installed on roofs, in fields, and even on water. But the next frontier for solar energy is one that once sounded like a science fiction concoction: outer space.

Interesting Engineering reported that Japan is "gearing up to test its space-based solar power station next year." The nation outlined its plans at the recent International Conference on Energy from Space, held in London.

"It will be a small satellite, about 400 pounds (180 kilograms) that will transmit about 1 kilowatt of power from an altitude of 250 miles (400 kilometers)," Japan Space Systems advisor Koichi Ijichi explained

The power will be beamed back via microwaves directed at an array of antennas spread out across about 25 miles, per Interesting Engineering, in order to capture the energy while the satellite moves quickly in orbit. 

While setting up a power station in low Earth orbit is quite a bit more difficult than having someone come and install solar panels on top of your house, the benefits are also enormous. Earth-bound solar panels are limited to only harvesting energy while the sun is shining, meaning they aren't doing anything at night or when it's cloudy, but in space, the sun is always out.

That means that space-based power stations can supply continuous energy, wirelessly transmitted around the world. According to Space.com, space-based solar harvesters can collect eight times more power than solar panels anywhere on Earth.

When it comes to completely phasing out the dirty energy sources like oil and gas, which are polluting our air and overheating our planet, space-based power stations could make a world of difference.

Scientists at Caltech recently made a breakthrough where they managed to beam solar energy from Earth's orbit back to our home planet, lighting a pair of LED lightbulbs. And judging by the reported progress of Japan's project, things are moving quickly in this exciting field.

As the Caltech scientists pointed out, the implications aren't just more clean energy, but more clean energy to places that would be difficult to reach with any of our existing infrastructure. That project plans to beam the energy back to antennas on the ground that do not need to be tethered to any one location. 

"No energy transmission infrastructure will be needed on the ground to receive this power," said Ali Hajimiri, the co-director of the Caltech project. "That means we can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster."

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