Russia may assume the leadership of the world market of space-generated electricity. This may happen when lots of solar power plants start generating electric power in orbit. Each such station will be a giant solar battery that will transmit energy to the Earth in the form of a laser or UHF beam.
Russian experts have thought of ways to maximally cheapen the construction and launching of such power plants into space. They suggest using frameless structures of thinnest film and flexible solar panels, rather than the unbending platforms of dozens of thousands of tons, as suggested by the Japanese and Americans. The thickness of the Russian film is no more than 12 microns. The film of a giant surface is placed into a relatively small capsule ahead of a blastoff, and then is unfolded in space into a plane and retains its form through slow rotation. Russia has come up with a number of unique technologies to unfold film coating structures, as well as with yet another one, absolutely indispensable, component of an orbit-based solar power plant, namely modern-day fibre-optic laser. Russia’s Central Research Centre for Mechanical Engineering is in charge of developing this kind of plant.
The Voice of Russia has asked the Centre’s Chief Research Fellow, Vitaly Melnikov, to elaborate on the project, and the first question was about the year when Russia could launch this kind of plant into space so it could start generating electricity in orbit.
Vitaly Melnikov: Americans said they would launch their plant by 2016, while the Japanese, by 2025.
VOR: How do you know that the US will launch their plant by 2016? There has been nothing of the kind on NASA plans thus far.
Melnikov: This is a private company, and they realize that the first players on a space-generated electricity market will stand to gain the most. We got this kind of report a while ago, but then the information was classified. When there is a lot of space-generated electricity, oil and other fuels, including Russian ones, will lose their value. We should realize that unless we run neck and neck with foreigners, we may end up in a very bad situation that could be comparable, perhaps, to the downfall of the Russian car-making industry.
VOR: Will the Russian project form part of the Federal Space Programme?
Melnikov: These programmes aren’t even being considered yet, due to our conservative stand on the issue, although they have been taken up by the Duma Energy Committee.
VOR: Is this only an idea that the Research Centre for Mechanical Engineering is playing with, or is it an objective that has been set?
Melnikov: It’s just an idea. Our Research Centre should come up either with an idea that’s non-existent anywhere in the world or something absolutely perfect. All novelties are brought together, considered; recommendations are made and reported to the top managers. Then the programme is waiting in the wings.