One such technology has been around for decades, as researchers have been appraising the use of power-beaming solar-power satellites. But the projected cost, complexity and energy economics of this technology made the concept a non-starter.
Today, however, a new, enhanced, unique approach has been developed, dubbed SPS-ALPHA, short for Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array. Leader of the space based solar power satellites concept is John Mankins of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions of Santa Maria, Calif.
Mankins provided a detailed overview of the power-beaming concept here during the 2012 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts meeting March 27-29.
Megawatts of Space Solar PowerIf successful, Mankins said that this project would make possible the construction of huge platforms from tens of thousands of small elements that can deliver remotely and afford-ably tens to thousands of megawatts using wireless power transmission to markets on Earth, as well as missions in space, Mankins said.
SPS-ALPHA uses a large array of individually controlled thin-film mirrors, outfitted on the curved surface of the satellite. These movable mirrors intercept and redirect incoming sunlight toward photovoltaic cells affixed to the backside of the solar power satellite’s large array.
The Earth-pointing side of this large modular circular array is tiled with a collection of microwave-power transmission panels that generate the coherent, low-intensity beam of radio frequency energy and transmits that energy to Earth.
Huge Space Solar Power platformsLast August, Artemis Innovation Management Solutions was selected for a NASA NIAC award to dive into the details of what Mankins labels “the first practical solar-power satellite concept.”
The project will be an energetic one-year study of the design. Mankins is drawing upon a 25-year career at NASA and Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, doing work that ranged from flight projects and space mission operations to systems-level innovation and advanced technology research.
Along with reviewing the conceptual feasibility of the SPS-ALPHA, the team will carry out select proof-of-concept technology experiments.
SPS-ALPHA is a novel “biomimetic” approach to the challenge of space solar power, Mankins told SPACE.com.
Biomimetic refers to human-made processes, substances, devices or systems that imitate nature. The booming field of biomimetics is of interest to researchers in nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, the medical industry and the military.
Mass production of Space Based Solar Power SatellitesAccording to Mankins, the SPS-ALPHA has several important advantages over past solar-power satellite approaches.
For example, this new approach eliminates the need for a large integrated power management and distribution system. That significantly reduces the projected cost of the platform, Mankins said during the NIAC gathering.
Moreover, the SPS-ALPHA concept, Mankins said, enables a solar-power satellite that can be assembled entirely from individual system elements that weigh no more than 110 to 440 pounds (50 to 200 kilograms), allowing all pieces to be mass produced at dramatically lower cost than traditional space systems. Therefore, a drastically reduced cost of the SPS system is realizable, he said.
“The current project will provide a detailed analytical understanding of the SPS-ALPHA concept, with supporting experiments,” Mankins said. “The needed next steps are to develop a working prototype of one or more of the modules and demonstrate the assembled system in the field. Over the next several years, the goal is to realize a low-Earth orbit flight test of the system,” he concluded.
The Air Force also in highly involved in research into this field:
The U.S. Air Force has laid out a new vision for its energy science and technology needs over the next 15 years – a forecast that includes plans for space-based power stations and the prospective use of small nuclear reactors for new spacecraft.
The report, entitled “Energy Horizons: United States Air Force Energy S&T Vision 2011-2026,” focuses on core Air Force missions in space, air, cyberspace and infrastructure. A series of Air Force mission-focused workshops and summits were held to shape the new strategy.
The report was released Feb. 9 and details how the Air Force plans to increase energy supply, reduce demand and change military culture to meet mission requirements.
“Energy is a center of gravity in war and an assured energy advantage can enable victory,” said Mark Maybury, chief scientist for the United States Air Force. He spearheaded the report.
The project may wind up in the to expensive category once again, as the costs to go into space are high, however the drive is still there. This could be something we could subsidize, as the future depends on innovations like these. So for now, space solar power space based solar power satellites to beam solar power to earth may seem a bit far fetched, it may not be that long before we are actually looking up to the skies and seeing these satellites beaming down our energy supplies from space!