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John Mankins’ Space-Based Solar Power Array Closer to Reality

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A project involving satellites, solar panels and microwave power transmitters is in works in Santa Maria, CA, where John Mankins, from Artemis Innovation Management Solutions is studying how on earth we could capture solar power in space and transmit it to the ground safely and efficiently.

The project has been codenamed SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array), and has been presented at the 2012 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) meeting at the end of last month.

After a 25-year career at NASA and Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mankins devised a system made of huge platforms from tens of thousands of elements for transmitting enormous amounts of power (on the scale of thousands of megawatts) to Earth, via microwaves.

However, the system is not only limited to providing power for the blue planet, since it can also provide juice for Moon and Mars missions, or to the various satellites that the human race is going to send in distant places throughout the solar system.

The SPS-ALPHA will use thin-film mirrors that will intercept and redirect incoming sunlight toward photovoltaic cells on the backside of the satellite’s large array.

Mankins’ new approach also allows for huge cost reductions compared to what similar projects may have costed. Each power satellite would weigh no more than 100 to 440 pounds (50 to 200 kg), which would reduce costs considerably.

Field testing is desired for the next couple of years. His goal is to made a LEO (low-Earth orbit) flight test to prove the concept.

A team of Japanese scientists and enthusiasts also designed a similar system. Moreover, others proposed that we should put a solar cells belt to the moon to harvest solar power. However, this project is the closest to reality that I’ve ever heard of.

[via mnn]

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