Space-Based Solar Energy

Scientists might not yet have discovered the means of creating a dyson sphere, which is a massive space station completely enveloping and drawing energy from a star, but they certainly have found other methods of using space to generate power.

Talk about spacial awareness!

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Understanding the Power of the Sun

Solar energy was first invented by countless primitive humans across the face of the Earth in the seventh century B.C. No, this doesn’t mean that Plato and Socrates used solar panels to power their houses.

Primitive humans of this time were using magnifying glasses to start fires, technically one of the first ever technological evolutions of solar power applied to one of the first ever technological inventions of humanity: fire.

However, no such thing as a solar collector would exist until 1767, when Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure invented one to capture and harness the power of the sun.

Nearly 170 years later, the first known example of solar power in space would be written about in science fiction literature.

Science Fiction Portrayals of Interstellar Solar

In 1937, Olaf Stapledon penned a novel entitled Star Maker. In this novel, the protagonist explores planet after planet, gaining more and more knowledge of the universe. One of the planets that he visits is not really a planet at all, rather it is entirely artificial.

The “planet” that the character explores is actually a series of mechanical contraptions set around a star, completely enveloping it to draw power from its light.

This is the novel that inspired Freeman Dyson to create the theories supporting the possibility of construction of a Dyson sphere. 

After Dyson’s famous exposition of this technology, science fiction exploded with talk of Dyson  spheres. In fact, the technology of the Dyson sphere is so widely known about today that research managed to convince themselves that they saw one in orbit around a distant star before realizing that it was most likely a series of clustered asteroids.

Mastering the Power of the Sun

Today, the only real example of space-based solar energy in use is the practice of using solar panels to increase power efficiency aboard space stations, such as the International Space Station.

Because the sun doesn’t set in space, the solar panels aboard the ISS are capable of receiving a constant bath of sunlight, keeping them on and active all times.

Such technology unfortunately could never be possible on Earth, however, since humans have to contend with the “setting” of the sun with the rotation of the Earth around its axis.

Conclusion

Although there seem to be new inventions and ballot initiatives pertaining to solar power every day, this is far from a new technology. This said, space is the final frontier for all technology and solar power seems to be trailblazing it spectacularly.

Further Reading

For a more detailed analysis of the history of solar energy in all of its past variations and versions, check out this great graphic.