Is it safe to beam power down from orbit?

05 December 2010

Question

A Californian outfit has patented the rights to produce electricity from the Sun and transport it to Earth by high energy beams. Will this technology, if put into practice, mean that areas around the beam-down sites will be deadly? (Because of misalignment and space weather and the high microwave power?)
Also, although they have already sold futures on the market, can this system actually fly?

D. Paul F. Kuhlmann

And...

Is wireless transmission of electricity/power practical? from @Bytor, via Twitter

Answer

Chris - I looked up which company that was. It's Solaren Space who are a Californian based company. Sounds intriguing. They've got permission to develop this system. They want to have a satellite array out in space at about 22,000 miles out and this would have very big photo electric cells that would harness solar energy turn that into electricity which they then convert into a microwave beam. They then beam that microwave energy down to the Earth to a very big collecting dish. Their argument is that the collecting dish would be about a 2 square mile across array, so very, very big. So the energy density of the microwave beam coming in from space would be quite low. Actually, they say if an aeroplane were to fly into that, actually the amount of heating effect the aeroplane would feel from the microwaves would be less than the heating effect of an airplane just coming out from under a cloud, and being hit by sunlight. So they say that this is not a threat to birds, planes, cars, people, or anything. And the idea there is they then sum all of their energy collected by the dish back together and this could generate - as I say, energy at the rate of 200 megawatts which is not small, but it's also not huge either but this is just early days. The Japanese aerospace exploration industry said they're also planning something similar.

Diana - Well it's a shame. It could at least guarantee that your in-flight meal would be warm...

Chris - I don't think we can quite stretch to that!

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