Azara Blog: Some people are looking into putting solar panels in space

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Date published: 2007/12/14

The BBC says:

Scientists are assessing the possibility of embarking on a space engineering project that would eclipse the effort to construct the International Space Station.

Researchers from Europe, Japan and the US are considering the viability of building giant solar panels in a low earth orbit that would supply cheap, inexhaustible energy to industry and homes.

Building a huge array outside the Earth's atmosphere would have the advantage of having no clouds to interrupt the flow of solar energy to the arrays.

Yet the sizeable downside would be the technical challenges of construction and of getting the power down to the ground.
It would require an armada of rockets carrying tonnes of material into space on a regular basis, says Lieutenant Colonel Paul Damphousse of the Pentagon's National Security Space Office.

"That's going to require repeated sorties; not one sortie every other week or every other month," he explains.

"We're talking hundreds of sorties every week and every month."

They've been talking about this for years. So far it's just science fiction. And the story spun by the BBC is rather contradictory. On the one hand we have zillions of rockets going into space. On the other hand, this is allegedly going to be a "cheap, inexhaustible energy" supply. Well, that is presumably ignoring the cost of the zillions of rockets. Of course protagonists for solar energy on the ground also conveniently ignore the construction, installation and maintenance side of solar panels when they claim that solar energy is "zero carbon". Unfortunately it is the total end-to-end cost of anything that matters, not one small bit picked out because it happens to look good. And another negative aspect of beaming in power from space is that it will change the energy balance for the Earth, which is unlikely to be without consequence.

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