India is hard at work building a series of solar power generation stations that it plans on sending into space to quench the country's ever increasing thirst for energy. "India's hypersonic air and space transport activity are now sharp focussed on energy production through space solar power by having solar power stations in orbit. The era of expendable launch vehicles should end and reusable launch vehicles (RLV) are needed," said V.K. Saraswatch, the Defense Research and Development Organization's chief controller.
A two-day conference to discuss the best strategies to meet this ambitious objective was held a few weeks ago in which Saraswatch argued that RLVs should be used in concert with a hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HTDV), a fast transport vehicle, to put the stations in orbit. Dr. Gopalaswamy, the former chairman of Bharat Dynamic Ltd. (part of India's ministry of defense), and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the country's president, were on hand to lend support to the proposed plans. "The era of conventional fuels is ending. The sun's intensity in space is nearly twice what we feel here on the Earth's surface. On Earth, there is sunlight fit for power generation for six to eight hours a day. In space, it's 24 hours. We need to have our own solar power station in orbit. Even if one per cent of our nation's land area is utilised for solar energy, we could have nearly 1,000 giga watts of electric power. Consider this as the projected demand in 2030 is 400 GW and the current consumption is 120 GW," said Gopalaswamy, adding that he envisaged possible collaborations with Brazil and South Africa.
Although the technology isn't quite there yet, finding a way to directly absorb solar energy from space is a no-brainer. As Gopalaswamy mentioned, the sun's intensity there is almost twice what we get on Earth and, best of all, the energy could be continually harnessed 24 hours a day. If implemented on a wide scale, such a plan would go a long ways towards solving our oil crisis and providing us with a safe, sustainable source of alternative energy.
Yet building and sending several large power stations into space is easier said than done: there are countless opportunities for errors to be made, the slightest of which could ruin the mission. We'll be keeping a close eye on India's progress as we approach their demonstration period next year.