Space-Based Solar Power Started as Sci-Fi and It Still Is | Space

The scene: A space-based solar power station called the Converter being commissioned some time in the Future. The characters: Two astronauts, Powell and Donovan, and a robot named QT-1 (“Cutie” to its human friends). The plot: The astronauts are training Cutie to take over the station’s operations, which involve collecting solar energy in space and then directing it as intense beams of microwaves down to Earth.

This is the backdrop for Isaac Asimov’s 1941 short story “Reason.” Most of the story centers around Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and the humans’ relationship with the robot. But the station itself is worth a second look. It’s pretty clear Asimov had no idea how a system like the Converter would actually work, except in the most basic terms. Here’s how Powell tries to explain it to Cutie:

“Our beams feed these worlds energy drawn from one of those huge incandescent globes that happens to be near us. We call that globe the Sun and it is on the other side of the station where you can’t see it.”

Harnessing the power of the sun in space is certainly an enticing idea. A decade ago we featured a project at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that aimed to launch a 1-gigawatt solar station by 2031. As a step in that direction, JAXA says it will demonstrate a small satellite transmitting 1 kilowatt of power to Earth from an altitude of…


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