Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - Page 13 News List

Japan space scientists transmit energy wirelessly in solar power breakthrough


Japanese scientists have succeeded in transmitting energy wirelessly, in a key step that could one day make solar power generation in space a possibility, an official said yesterday.

Researchers used microwaves to deliver 1.8 kilowatts of power — enough to run an electric kettle — through the air with pinpoint accuracy to a receiver 55m away.

While the distance was not huge, the technology could pave the way for mankind to eventually tap the vast amount of solar energy available in space and use it on Earth, a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

“This was the first time anyone has managed to send a high output of nearly 2 kilowatts of electric power via microwaves to a small target, using a delicate directivity control device,” he said.

JAXA has been working on devising a space solar power systems (SSPS) for years, the spokesman said.

Solar power generation in space has many advantages over its Earth-based cousin, notably the permanent availability of energy, regardless of weather or time of day.

While man-made satellites, such as the International Space Station, have long since been able to use the solar energy that washes over them from the sun, getting that power down to Earth where people can use it has been the thing of science fiction.

However, the Japanese research offers the possibility that humans could one day be able to farm an inexhaustible source of energy in space.

The idea would be for microwave-transmitting solar satellites — which would have sunlight-gathering panels and antennae — to be set up about 36,000km from Earth, the JAXA spokesman said.

“But it could take decades before we see practical application of the technology — maybe in the 2040s or later,” he said. “There are a number of challenges to overcome, such as how to send huge structures into space, how to construct them and how to maintain them.”

The idea of space-based solar power generation emerged among US researchers in the 1960s and Japan’s SSPS program, chiefly financed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, started in 2009, he said.

Resource-poor Japan has to import huge amounts of fossil fuel. It has become substantially more dependent on these imports as its nuclear power industry shut down in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

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