China wants to test solar power from space in LEO in 2028 and GEO in 2030

China has committed to enhancing its space presence “all-round” within the next five years, with the goal of becoming a significant space power by 2030, as per a white paper released. As part of a gradual creation of a space-centered solar power station, China announced plans to undertake solar power production and transmission trials at various orbital altitudes within the next decade.

In 2028, the CAST (China Academy of Space Technology), the country’s primary state-owned spacecraft maker, aims to carry out a “Space high voltage transmission as well as wireless power transmission experiment” in low Earth orbit (LEO). The satellite will have a low power laser transmission payload and a solar cell array, transmitting array, microwave transmitting antenna, as well as test power transfer capability at distances of 400 kilometers (400 kms) from orbit.

Building infrastructure for collecting energy transmissions is also part of the strategy. The latest information on CAST’s plans was published in the China Space Science and Technology journal in the piece “Retro-directive microwave power beam steering mechanism of space solar power station.”

The South China Morning Post broke the news of the paper on June 7. CAST had previously stated an aim of deploying a megawatt-level satellite by the year 2030, so this change puts the first satellite in orbit 2 years earlier than intended. Phase 1 will be deployed into geostationary orbit (GEO) in 2028, while phase 2 will be launched in 2030, needing error-free energy transfer across a range of 35,800 kilometers to Earth.

The second mission would have a power output of up to one megawatt, substantially larger transmission arrays, and medium-power laser power transmission, and would require on-orbit assembly. Phases 4 and 3, which will take place in 2035 and 2050, respectively, will necessitate significant improvements in energy production (10 MW and 2 GW (gigawatts)), beam steering accuracy, transmission architecture, transmission, and orbital assembly capabilities.

Transmission arrays greater than 100 meters and roughly one kilometer would be required for the spacecraft, respectively. According to the report, the four-phase initiative might help China achieve its carbon neutrality and energy security targets, according to Dong Shiwei of CAST’s State Key Laboratory of Space Microwave Technology as well as two others from the Qian Xuesen Space Technology Laboratory and Chongqing University. The revised plan is a response to changes in local and international development trends, as well as advances in technology research.

In 2021, CAST announced that it is developing small-scale electricity production experiments in 2022, which might lead to a power production facility of megawatt-level by 2030. To complement its space-centered solar power research, it is building test facilities near Chongqing.

It utilized a payload within a small blimp last year to evaluate power transfer across a 300-meter distance. Last year, funding was provided for research into the creation of kilometer-scale objects in orbit, which would pose a significant difficulty in assembling the massive arrays required for solar power gathering and transmission.

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