Here Comes the Sun: Mirrors in orbit would reflect sunlight onto huge solar panels, and the resulting power would be beamed down to Earth. Image: John MacNeill
Imagine looking out over Tokyo Bay from high above and seeing a man-made island in the harbor, 3 kilometers long. A massive net is stretched over the island and studded with 5 billion tiny rectifying antennas, which convert microwave energy into DC electricity. Also on the island is a substation that sends that electricity coursing through a submarine cable to Tokyo, to help keep the factories of the Keihin industrial zone humming and the neon lights of Shibuya shining bright.
But you can’t even see the most interesting part. Several giant solar collectors in geosynchronous orbit are beaming microwaves down to the island from 36 000 km above Earth.
It’s been the subject of many previous studies and the stuff of sci-fi for decades, but space-based solar power could at last become a reality—and within 25 years, according to a proposal from researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The agency, which leads the world in research on space-based solar power systems, now has a technology road map that suggests a series of ground and orbital demonstrations leading to the development in the 2030s of a 1-gigawatt commercial system—about the same output as a typical nuclear power plant.
- The US Navy’s Plan to Beam Down Energy From Orbiting Solar Panels
- Space-based solar power
- Space-based solar power (wikipedia)
- Solar Power via the Moon (pdf)
- Solar Power Satellite Design Considerations
- URSI White Paper on Solar Power Satellite (SPS) Systems (pdf)
- Orbiting Solar Panels Beam Energy From Space
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has seen a cluster of newborn stars enclosed in a cocoon of dust and gas in the constellation Camelopardalis. The cluster, AFGL 490, is hidden from view in visible light by the cloud. But WISE’s infrared vision sees the glow of the dust itself, and penetrates this dust to see the infant stars within.
Not much is known about this stealthy star cluster. Its distance from Earth is estimated to be about 2,300 light-years. The portion of the star-forming nebula captured in this view stretches across about 62 light-years of space.
All four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this mosaic. Color is representational: blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is dominated by light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is mostly light from warm dust.