China to Build Space Solar Power Station Pioneered by Caltech

December 20, 2019 Updated: December 20, 2019

News Analysis

China announced it will begin building megawatt-capable solar power stations in space by 2035, as it intends to displace the United States as the leading space power.

The space-based solar power (SSP) were first designed by Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists. Caltech (California Institute of Technology) spent 40 years perfecting SSP as a weapons platform and power replacement for U.S. “peak oil.” But the effort was shelved after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the realization by 2009 that the U.S. oil fracking boom was about to add another 200 years to America’s oil reserves.

China Academy of Space Technology scientist Wang Li stated at the China-Russia Engineering Forum in late November that China was moving ahead to build a 200-ton power (SSP) station in space to capture the sun’s energy, convert it to microwaves or lasers, and wirelessly beam energy to the Earth. Wang said: “We hope to strengthen international cooperation and make scientific and technological breakthroughs so that humankind can achieve the dream of limitless clean energy at an early date.”

U.S. science fiction writer Isaac Asimov incorporated SSP into his 1941 novel “Reason.” NASA advisor Peter Glaser’s proposal to build an SSP platform in 1968 kicked off four decades of research. With Caltech managing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Caltech professor John Mankins led the initiative for 25 years.

The National Space Magazine adAstra published an outline by the National Space Security Office for military and dual-use energy applications for space-based solar power in 2008. According to a report by the National Space Security Office, “the most obvious use of SSP was for military base power. An average requirement of 5-15 MW of 24/7 baseload electricity could be delivered inside most base perimeters with a one km-wide or less rectenna—tremendously significant from a force-protection perspective for minimizing vulnerable external overland lines of fuel and power transportation.”

But the Obama administration shut down NASA in 2009 by terminating its Constellation program to build the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets for manned moon missions after a $9 billion of prior investment. When questioned later about military concerns regarding China, he emphasized the need for cooperation by stating: “The relationship between the United States and China is the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century.” Obama would later lecture Mitt Romney in a 2012 presidential debate that the United States faced no nuclear threats because “the Cold War is over.”

In spite of Obama’s confidence in what he praised as the New World Order, China has relentlessly pursued militarizing space since exploding in mid-air a 20-kiloton nuclear-tipped warhead on a DF-2A missile launch from Jiuquan on Oct. 27, 1966.

The Clinton administration tried cooperation by directing NASA and its contractors to work with China to develop commercial satellites. But the program collapsed in 1998 when a congressional commission found that technical information provided by U.S. space companies wound up strategically improving Chinese ballistic missiles.

China passed the United States as the top nation for space flights in 2018, and leads in 2019 with 32 missions and 30 successes; compared to the United States with 26 missions and 26 successes.

Despite an embargo against Chinese nationals working directly with U.S. space companies or NASA, the number of Chinese foreign exchange students “enrolled“ in U.S. colleges during the Obama administration for academic years 2009/2010 through 2016/2017 nearly quadrupled from 98,251 to 350,755. With the top American science, technology, engineering and math program, 195 of Caltech’s 2,238 students are now from China.

During the Obama years, Tan Hongjin was one of the Chinese students who graduated from Caltech and received a U.S. legal permanent resident visa after serving as a senior researcher at the Jet Propulsion Lab from Feb. 2014 to March 2015. Tan was arrested in December 2018 for stealing intellectual property, estimated to be worth $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion, regarding advanced power storage battery systems from American energy company Phillips 66. The FBI reported that Tan had been offered a job with a Chinese company that produces lithium-ion battery materials.

Also in December 2018, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong of the China hacking group known in the cybersecurity community as “Advanced Persistent Threat 10 (APT 10) were indicted for economic and military espionage theft against U.S. defense technology companies and federal government agencies, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The defendants worked for Huaying Haitai Science and Technology Development Company located in Tianjin, China, and they acted in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau.

Chriss Street is an expert in macroeconomics, technology, and national security. He has served as CEO of several companies and is an active writer with more than 1,500 publications. He also regularly provides strategy lectures to graduate students at top Southern California universities.