Microwaves derived from solar power and transmitted by orbiting satellites to electric power stations on Earth are being planned in order to create future energy self-sufficiency for the U.S. But are microwaves safe for plants here on Earth?
The space solar power concept would require putting satellites into orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles over the equator. In such an orbit, satellites revolve around the Earth at the same speed as the planet rotates, causing the satellites to appear to hover over the same point on the ground below. And at that altitude, they are continuously in sunlight. Solar cells on the satellites would change energy from sunshine into electricity. A satellite system would convert the electricity into microwaves and beam them to receiving antennae on the Earth?s surface. There, systems would convert the microwave energy back into electricity and feed it into the nation?s power grid. “These microwaves are in the radio frequency range, at the same frequencies at which many cell phone services operate,” says Jay Skiles of NASA Ames Research Center in California. NASA scientists are about to test the safety of microwaves on plants by continuously beaming weak microwaves on alfalfa plants. “One of our main questions is how organisms will respond to sustained microwave exposure because the beam from space will be on all the time,” says Skiles. He has designed a series of experiments to test the effects of weak microwave illumination on plants at 2.45 GHz frequency. “We expect that the microwave intensity at ground level will be about a million times less than that in a typical microwave oven,? says Skiles. ?Our hypothesis is that plants exposed to microwaves will be no different from those plants that are not exposed to microwaves.”
Skiles is planning additional, longer experiments to test a variety of plants under various conditions and says, “Long-duration mixes of plant species experiments as well as testing single plant species for response to microwaves under stressful conditions, including plants from a desert ecosystem, will be future tests.”
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