HELSINKI — China intends to use its new Tiangong space station to test key technologies needed for space polar energy, according to a senior space official.
Robotic arms already operating outside Tiangong will be used to test the in-orbit assembly of modules for a space-based solar power test system, said Yang Hong, chief designer of the space station of Tiangong in a presentation at the ongoing China Space Conference. .
The test system will then orbit independently and deploy its solar arrays and other systems. It is likely to test and verify capabilities such as power generation, conversion, and transmission.
The test will be designed to “promote breakthroughs in individual technologies, accumulate experimental data in orbit, and contribute to the achievement of peak carbon and carbon neutrality,” Yang told CCTV.
In 2020, China announced targets to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.
Yang noted that the SBSP is a path to new green energy, but such a project still faces many technical challenges. However, work is in progress.
The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the main state-owned spacecraft manufacturer that manufactured the modules for Tiangong, stated earlier that he plans to conduct a “space experiment of high voltage transfer and wireless power transmission” in low Earth orbit in 2028.
This first-phase test is to be followed by a second-phase experiment conducted in geostationary orbit, requiring precise energy transmission over a distance of 35,800 kilometers to Earth, according to previous presentations.
Phases 3 and 4, in 2035 and 2050 respectively, will target 10 MW and 2 gigawatts of power generation, requiring leaps in power transmission capabilities, orbital assembly capabilities, beam steering accuracy and transmission architecture.
Long Lehao, chief designer of China’s Long March series of rockets and an advocate for the SBSP, said in June 2021 that the potential project would use the super-heavy Long March 9 rocket in development to send the required infrastructure into geostationary orbit.
China recently apparently abandoned plans for a long and enduring March 9 concept, looking to transition to a reusable version instead.
China’s Xidian University in June completed a 75-meter-tall steel structure facility that it calls the world’s first fully bonded, full-system ground test system for SBSP.
In another perhaps related development, research into the construction of kilometric objects in orbit received funding last year. Such work could help address the major challenge of assembling the giant panels needed for solar energy collection and transmission panels.
Space solar power faces major challenges, including economic feasibility and manufacturing costs, cheap and reliable launch services, and efficient and safe power transmission.