The Gist of Science Reporter: March 2017


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 solar panels.

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 space.
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 space technology.

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.

Space Economy

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 source.
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.

Space Mining

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 space!

Space Travel

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.

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