The Gist of Science Reporter: March 2017
World's Largest Solar Power Plant
India now has the world's largest solar power plant with the
completion of the sola; power giant in Tamil Nadu. The solar power plant in
Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu takes the title of the world's largest solar power plant.
The plant has the capacity to generate 648 MW of electricity at a single
location and was completed in just eight months. As per the Solar Energy Policy
unveiled by the Government, the country appears to be on schedule to reduce its
dependency on fossil fuels to power homes and industries by 2030.
Prior to this, Topaz Farm in California was the largest solar
power plant at a single location with a capacity of 550 MW. The Kamuthi solar
plant comprises 2.5 million individual solar modules and covers an area of 10 sq
km. The plant is cleaned every day by a robotic system and charged by its own
The plant will provide power for about 150,000 homes in the
region and contribute to the country's goal of powering 60 million homes with
solar energy by 2022. With this plant, India's total installed capacity of solar
plants has touched the 10 GW mark.
Making Money in Space
Until recently all investments in space technologies and the
output from the missions have principally being used by governments. The
utilization involves R&D, defence and telecommunication services, weather
forecasts, etc., the benefits being harnessed entirely for technological growth,
military applications and prestige of a nation.
However, the trend is now changing in many countries
worldwide. The prospect of privatization of space missions is taking shape at a
fast rate with many business moguls venturing into investing their fortunes in
Satellite services are also used in navigation systems, communications, and
meteorology and earth observations. Satellite communications also find extensive
use in urban planning, traffic control, medicine, disaster management, and
transportation. All this justifies the commercial aspect of the revenue from
The global space industry has grown steadily in the past
decade; the majority of the revenue generated by the space missions is of
commercial nature, with global space activities amounting to nearly $315 billion
in the year 2013 and reporting a rise to $323 billion in 2015. This amounts to a
major chunk of the space relate activity coming from commercial use.
This is brings us to the interesting aspect of space economy.
For example, all deep space missions customarily log on to the International
Space Station (ISS) - a facility up in space shared, by all countries exploring
space and contributing to its upkeep. It is by way of refuelling or withdrawing
resources from ISS, the probes are able to catapult into further deep space.
The ISS in turn also depends on further missions to furnish
its supplies regularly. All these eat away into the economy of the mission,
costing not only huge amounts running into billions but also depleting earth
However, if resources can be extracted and utilised from space itself, then the
burden on earth as well as the economy comes down. Moreover there is a promising
factor of establishments being able to sell resources from space to improve
their economy. This is similar to an outsourcing facility in space available to
anybody entering into space for various reasons.
The Space Foundation
Keeping an eye on the various developments and progresses of
the global space industry, a non-profit organisation The Space Foundation was
started in 1983. This not only provides services in terms of space awareness
activities, educational programmes and major industry events related to space,
but also provides an annual report called The Space Report. With a subscription
fee, any country can access and benefit from these reports, which often serve as
guidelines for the latest activities.
What other prospects could space missions hold? The year 2017
will see another probe from NASA approaching a near-earth asteroid. One
interesting aspect of this mission is the samples collected from the asteroids.
Asteroids as we know are smaller space objects with earth-like orbits and
abundant resources. They have been found to contain water, precious minerals and
un-diffused solar energy. So is it possible to utilise this rich repository for
the economic benefit of mankind?
For example, some minerals that are extracted from space
objects can be used as propellants and fuels. It is being visualised to develop
technology such that the facility is available in-situ that is mining,
processing and providing all in space itself!
Some of the minerals of interest are gold, silver, iridium,
and rhodium which can be brought back to earth for utilisation here. Aluminium,
copper and iron find use in construction. Water and oxygen sources from space
can directly be used to sustain astronauts in space; hydrogen, oxygen and water
can be used to derive propellants for rockets a kind of fuel filling stations in
Manned missions are just over four decades old. Old enough
for rapid developments and progress in this arena. Many countries including
India have sent their astronauts into space and conducted researches. Now, as a
common man one is tempted to ask: "Is it possible for you and me to travel into
space?" Very much Yes, say these organisations involved in space economy.
As we know flight travel by itself contributes to a major
chunk of a country's economy even giving birth to indirect revenue in the form
of cargo, tourism, hospitality industry, etc. Similarly, space travel in the
future too holds a lot of promise as a commercial business prospect.
Technically, a distance of 50 km upward comes under space.
Currently, commercial space travel is aimed at providing five minutes of the
weightlessness experience to the participant in this region which is also the
near-earth orbit only. Then the craft glides back to the base.
As of now it occupies the status at adventure travel,
reserved for a few rich people and can cost a whopping $200,000 or more per
person. But analysts predict that this is definitely not a niche market as the
major chunk of revenue comes from the middle class travellers. So very soon
there will be change in this scenario and prices will come down.
Deep Space Scavenging
Some other possible services that are economic value are deep
space scavenging. This involves the collection and disposal of space debris left
by defunct, malfunctioning spacecrafts. They can include parts or entire probes
lost in space until now. The vision is to collect such objects, route them to a
facility in space for destroying or recycling as require.