50 years ago, scientists wanted to build solar panels on the moon

Excerpt from the June 14, 1969 issue of Science News

solar satellite

STELLAR POWER  The SPS-Alpha solar satellite, shown in this illustration, was presented to NASA as a possible design for space-based solar power. The cone of solar cells collects the energy. The cells then convert the energy to microwaves and beam it down to Earth to use as electricity.

John C. Mankins/U.S. Navy

Science News cover from June 14, 1969Solar power from moon to Earth

An almost unlimited supply of electricity could be generated on the moon’s surface by huge arrays of solar cells and beamed to Earth by laser. Sunlight falling on a crater … could produce from 10,000 to 100,000 megawatts of power. By comparison, a large hydroelectric dam on Earth produces about 100 megawatts. Solar cells would be more efficient on the moon than on Earth … because of the lack of dimming clouds. — Science News, June 14, 1969


There are no solar panels on the moon yet, but scientists are still looking at ways to harness the sun’s energy in space to use as electricity on Earth. A 2012 NASA report proposed a bell-shaped satellite of solar cells that could supply solar energy to Earth, costing roughly $20 billion to launch. China and Japan are further along. China plans to launch small solar power stations into the stratosphere by 2025; Japan has its sights set on a similar one-gigawatt solar plant, generating as much energy as a typical nuclear power plant on Earth, by the 2030s.

About Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is the program assistant for the National Association for Media Literacy Education and a solutions specialist for the Solutions Journalism Network. He is also a former editorial assistant for Science News.

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