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Energy from outer space
It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but is actually closer to reality than you may think. Find out how researchers are boldly going where no watt has gone before.
Where the sun always shines
Solar radiation is the most promising form of space-based power. While a growing solar energy industry already exists, outsourcing to space could help solve a lot of issues. Land-based solar power is limited by night, cloud cover and the atmosphere. In space, the sun never goes away.
Solar panels in space would be attached to orbiting satellites or stationed on the moon. The electricity generated would be transformed to microwaves or lasers and sent wirelessly to earth, where it would be converted back to electricity.
This cosmic energy connection may seem a little far out, but the United States, China, India and Japan all have solar-based power projects in development.
Landing on the moon
The moon is another potential energy resource, Helium-3, an isotope found in abundance on the lunar surface, may one day help generate electricity using nuclear fusion technology. Unlike nuclear fission, which splits an atom, nuclear fusion combines the nuclei of multiple atoms to produce energy.
Nuclear fusion using Helium-3 has the potential to generate electricity with little waste and virtually no radiation. However, researchers still have to fine-tune the nuclear fusion process and find a way to economically mine, transport and refine Helium-3 for use in nuclear reactors.
The next frontier for space-based power could be providing energy for people who live and work on Mars. NASA has long-term plans to send human resources to the planet and they will need a way to keep the lights on. The harsh Martian environment presents a challenge, however.
One promising idea is harvesting energy from dry ice. When dry ice is near a hot surface, it will levitate freely as it changes from solid to vapor-a phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect. Vapor released from a disc of dry ice on top of a turbine can create a spinning motion to power an electric generator. NASA data shows that dry ice may be abundant on Mars.
Extraterrestrial power generation may be years away, but its future looks bright as researchers continue to search for alternative sources of clean, renewable energy.
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