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Has science ever touched on the possibility of using the vacuum of space for electricity? Answered

I have no real knowledge of anything practical or important so forgive me if I sound ignorant . I guess I kind of am. To me it seems like it would be possible to use the constant vacuum of space to create electricity. Like perhaps some type of reverse piston pulling against elastic resistance inside a sealed container therefore creating sound waves which could be harnessed like in a wind belt generator.

This cracked out idea occurred to me after seeing the wind belt generators made from hard drive voice coils on here. Until that I didn't even know there was such a thing as a wind belt generator. Again, I'm sorry if this question offends any of the real Einsteins on here who can see why something like that would so obviously NOT work.


A blog just came out in the MIT Technology Review with the title "A Blueprint for a Quantum Propulsion Machine" and starts, "Push on the electromagnetic fields in the quantum vacuum and you should get an equal and opposite force."  It is a bit like your thinking.

If you want to check it out, it's at  

I am nearly finished with my current project, which is a center fired arrow launching rifle. I won't take on any new projects until it's completed. I have a bad habit of leaving things half finished for years at a time. When it's finished I'll post an Instructable.

After that I'll be ready to take on something new. If anyone can devise an experiment, I'll build it. If I have the means, that is. Just send me your sketch. I am no artist myself, so don't worry if it's crude. As long as it illustrates the concepts clearly enough, it will be ok. Keep in mind, I do have a limited budget (wife, in other words).

I don't really understand what you're talking about here, but, no I don't get it. Could you link to the devices you're thinking about, and the general idea you have with them?


if you sent a canister of air into space, then run a piston off of it (since there is pressure inside the canister, and no pressure on the outside)

this is very close to what i was thinking. i never really had anything close to an actual design concept worked out.

You could do that on the ground - do you know how much it costs to launch things into space?


The question included "reverse piston pulling against elastic resistance inside a sealed container therefore creating sound waves" I didn't see pressurised-gas in there.


How does the vacuum of space relate to that one?


my question is if we found a way to get electricity from space how would we get it to earth? woulden't the ozone burn away any wire we try to run through it? or could it be transported wireless? these are just questions that popped into my mind, the idea is good because we can count on the vacume of space to be there almost indefinitely

Microwaves can be used to transmit high power from a-to-b with relatively moderate losses - think how much power a small microwave oven can transmit to your food (1000-3000 watts for a commercial model).

Sci-fi and simcity2000 toyed with the idea of solar collectors in space (more efficient, no atmosphere and no clouds) then beaming the power to a power plant on the surface.

well there we go problem solved lol

Solar power satellites orbit-earth have been proposed - there's a proposal to orbit one.



it all orbits (pun intended) around the price of oil.

Around 150+ usd/barrel it becomes cost effective to MAKE oil products from other energy (make gasoline from other organics with solar/hydro/nuclear)...
Any cheaper than that and its easier to just drill deeper to extract more oil.

This function applies to all sorts of power generation; oil expensive = fun photovoltaic, photothermic, and other alternative energy stuff stars popping up :D

we wouldnt need to use it on earth it could power the space station!!!!

 Hi Owendrake, I see you are a thinker.  I agree with what other say, but the basic idea that a vacuum can be used to power a piston is an excellent one.  That is how the first practical steam engine, the Neucomen engine, worked--steam was pumped into the piston, then cold water was sprayed in, condensing the steam.   The resulting vacuum pulled the piston down.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcomen_steam_engine

Another  idea that has been tried is using a long wire from a spacecraft to pass through the Earth's magnetic field, which would generate electricity just like an electric generator (moving a wire in a magnetic field).  I believe it  begin working but the wire tangled and the experiment had to be discontinued for safety.

Then there is  "vacuum energy" which has been considered as a source of a "free energy" machine (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_energy).  This is controversial, but it is certainly worth thinking about.

So keep up your good thinking.  Your ideas are not as far-fetched as you fear!

Heyyy! A giant induction loop passing through the magnetosphere! Now that's a very interesting idea.

If we send a satellite on a pole to pole orbit, I wonder if that's a viable source of power... Not much, but possibly enough for some basic systems.

The vacuum did not 'pull' the pison - the pressure on the other side of the piston PUSHED it toward the vacuum.

That's a classic example of perspective in action. Sometimes by looking at a "problem"  from an opposite perspective, it can lead us to new understanding and potentially to new solutions..

Thank you very much for the link to Newcomen's engine.  Most excellent.

If you're interested, there's even a patent on power generation for spacecraft using Faraday induction.

A vacuum does not PULL on anything.  It is the absence of pressure, so pressure (any) always tries to fill a vacuum.  "Nature abhors a vacuum".

If you took a container of atmosphere at sea level and brought it to space, it would have ~14psi (100ish kpa) of pressure trying to escape multiplied by volume, multiplied by temperature, worth of energy.  It's not a lot, and there would be losses converting that pressure to useful energy (turbines run at hundreds of psi)

Here's the catch, the gravity of the planet that originally pressurized the gas acted like a spring, pulling the gas away from the vacuum, storing the energy - building up pressure.  Lifting the container of pressurized gas out to space would COST ENERGY.
Not only that, it would cost MORE energy than gravity put in originally if you include the mass of the container required to make this scenario happen.

Imagine if you will, you use a mass on the planet to crush a spring, then lock the spring, then lift the weight off, and install the spring (with stored energy) in a machine that would extract the energy in the spring with a generator.  Win-win right?  WRONG.  You had to put energy into the initial mass to lift it up to use gravity to crush the spring.

Do not have any delusions - energy and mass are conserved (overall, if you include nuclear reactions).  No free energy, no vacu-suck energy, and no over-unity.  Anyone who claims otherwise is lying or just mistaken.

As others have noted pressurizing a container requires at least as much energy input as you'll be able to extract by depressurizing it.  Oh, those silly conservation laws!

If you really want to generate electricity in space, there are three different very good, and quite efficient, methods:  solar photovoltaic, nuclear power (either thermal radioisotope or reactor), and static collection. 

The last is unusual, and not used in production spacecraft (where it can actually destroy electronics!).  There is a constant stream of positively charged particles (mostly protons) called the solar wind.  Since these are relatively low energy (keV to a few MeV), when they hit a sheet of material they'll stop.  Hence, anything out in space gradually builds up a net positive charge on its surface, and hence a voltage with respect to its interior.  One could imagine clever engineering to take advantage of this voltage to run current until there's equal charge throughout.


8 years ago

Well, Owendrake, In order to drive the piston to generate the electricity, one needs a positive pressure to give motion. Pressurizing the air and putting the unit in space take energy. You may be able to recover most of the energy lost to the air compression, but the process stops as soon as the air runs out.

That, and the energy cost of deploying the unit would far exceed the output.

Interesting idea, but I don't see it as practical.

I am well aware of how the typical piston works due to some experiences with internal combustion engines, gas powered automatic weapons and the like. I really didn't think piston would have been the right word since I wasn't talking about positive pressure but used it for lack of a better term. I guess I wouldn't have been able to argue to the contrary about a piston "needing positive pressure to give motion" before just a few minutes ago. As I said, I am not ashamed to acknowledge my ignorance. That is why I have to ask questions in attempts to be at least a little less so.  but...

According to cyberpageman "That is how the first practical steam engine, the Neucomen engine, worked--steam was pumped into the piston, then cold water was sprayed in, condensing the steam.   The resulting vacuum pulled the piston down.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcomen_steam_engine"

From the links that have been put up I'm beginning to see that this is a controversial thought and I am not arrogant enough to think I have the ability to solve it. In my head though I was visualizing basically what that windbelt generator with the rubber band and the voice coil looked like. As far as the "piston" it wouldn't really even have to move back and forth much. I was only seeing it holding tension against something that would vibrate.

I was mostly thinking in terms of things that mankind would already be putting into space. A long while back I read something about space probes utilizing water from other planets to fuel them even further on. Which leads me to another question - ...but not right now

Thank you for the very informative links. They were dead on in their relevance to my question.