Jul 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Scientists Shed Light on Beaming Solar Power from Space

Mar 15, 2015 07:29 PM EDT

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While there might be limits to the amount of solar power we can collect here on Earth, scientists have long been studying the notion of harnessing solar power from the endless supply that can be found in space.  Now, what was once just a notion in the mind of researchers has taken a huge step towards becoming a reality.

Scientists working for JAXA, Japan's space administration, have announced a major breakthrough in wireless power transmission.  Researchers were able to finally beam power with a high degree of accuracy.  The team beamed 1.8 kilowatts of power, enough to power an electric tea kettle, more than 50 meters to a small receiver without any wires whatsoever. 

While this distance is just a drop in the bucket compared to the distance from space to the ground here on Earth, the technology could pave the way for mankind to tap the vast amount of energy resources available in Space for use here at home.

"This was the first time anyone has managed to send a high output of nearly two kilowatts of electric power via microwaves to a small target, using a delicate directivity control device," said a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

The researchers were able to accomplish this task first by converting the electrical signal to microwaves, then beaming them to a remote receiver, and finally converting them back into electrons. 

Researchers in Japan have been working on this technology for years as part of JAXA's Space Solar Power Systems effort.  The program's goal is to harness a constant supply of solar energy directly from space using orbital solar farms and then beam that energy for use here on Earth.

Solar power generation in space has many advantages over solar power here on the ground with the constant availability of energy regardless of the weather or time of day being the most notable. 

The idea, said the JAXA spokesman, would be for microwave-transmitting solar satellites - which would have sunlight-gathering panels and antennae - to be set up about 22,300 miles (36,000km) from the Earth.

"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."

While this project from JAXA is still closer to science fiction rather than science fact, the lure of an almost limitless supply of energy is too much to ignore and now that researchers have overcome the first hurdle of actually beaming the energy to another location, we could be looking at the future of power generation here on Earth today.

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