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The Sun puts out an incredible amount of energy, but thanks to
the inverse-square law a relatively small
amount actually reaches us. If
we could somehow get closer to the Sun, we should be able
to harvest substantially more energy. But
What if we constructed a massive solar-powered
then sent it to the Sun to collect energy before
returning to Earth? We could
launch the tanker so that it follows a secant line to Earth's
orbit. In essence, we would be throwing the
tanker towards the sun, then
moving around to the spot where we could catch it. It
wouldn't even need to be in the same orbital
periodwe could plan on catching
the tanker, say, one and one third years after launching it.
Once we have extracted the energy from the tanker, it could
perform a gravity assist maneuver around
the Earth to continue its next
journey past the Sun, and so on indefinitely. It should be
able to perform most of its course-correction
maneuvers during the charging
period, so as little energy as possible would be siphoned
from the stored power. Ideally, the tanker
should be near empty as it gets
close to the Sun, and as full as possible by the time it
approaches Earth. Ensuring that the course
towards the Sun is accurate is thus less
important than the course away from it. Just aim for the big
glowing thing, and once you get there you
have effectively unlimited
energy to precisely adjust your course towards Earth.
Of course, we don't quite have the technology for this to be
practical yet, and a single tanker might not
provide much usable energy.
But a constant stream of such tankers could conceivably
produce enough energy to make this a viable
power source in the future. And
apart from the initial construction and launch costs, the
ongoing operational cost should be virtually nil,
as any energy needed could
simply be acquired from the Sun.
Certain things we will have to handwave away at present
battery technology, for one. Currently
batteries don't last indefinitely, though
research into supercapacitors may ameliorate this issue.
Also, the question of how to return the power to
Earth from space once the
tanker has arrived remains unanswered, but that is beyond
the scope of this idea. Once we get the
power into Earth's orbit, getting it
down to the surface is somebody else's problem. And of
course, the whole issue of creating propulsion
without ejecting mass is still something that has yet to be
out, but a quick perusal of
Wikipedia leads me to believe that significant
progress is being made in
that area. So while this idea may seem far-fetched today, it
should be technologically feasible (if
perhaps not entirely practical) at
some point in the future.
||I suppose this might work if your tanker was in an extremely
elliptical orbit that brought it very close to the sun, and then
out to Earth's orbit - if such an orbit is possible.
||But then you've got something which can harvest maybe 10,000
times as much solar energy as on Earth (if it comes to within 1
million miles of the sun), for maybe 1/10th of its orbit
(timewise). That gives you an average of 1000x the solar
energy collection of similar sized array near Earth; which
equates to an array 30x larger on each side.
||If it ever does become feasible, I imagine that terrestrial
fusion power would be way more efficient.
||The main thing about Space is that it is all about lots and
lots of space. We can get the effect of your tanker by
simply building a solar collecting station in the Earth's orbit
(perhaps at a Lagrange Point), and also building a really big
solar sail that is actually a mirror, not a sail. There's plenty
of room for the thing! It would reflect concentrated
sunlight onto the the collecting station, and power would
be generated at the same rate, constantly, just as if the
collecting station had been constantly located near the