Friday, 13 April 2012 01:57
April 13, 2012
NASA has recently approved funding for a proof-of-concept study that aims to create a satellite capable of sending energy from space to Earth.
Popular Science reports that NASA officials are confident that the technology could help improve engineering research efforts focused on augmenting current energy supplies. Former NASA engineer John Mankins is behind the scheme, which is ostensibly taken from a science fiction novel. Mankins left the space agency for the private sector, and his company, Innovation Management Solutions, is behind the technology.
The concept is called the Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array (SPS-ALPHA), and it could help NASA develop a more efficient method for harvesting solar energy, according to company officials. Mankins noted the system could deliver solar energy to Earth and space missions.
"SPS-ALPHA is a novel, bio-mimetic approach to the challenge of space solar power. If successful, this project will make possible the construction of huge platforms from tens of thousands of small elements that can deliver remotely and affordably 10s to 1000s of megawatts using wireless power transmission to markets on Earth and missions in space," Mankins said.
The system would consist of an array of thin-film mirrors that could be transported to space using conventional spacecraft. Mankins said assembling the system in space is more cost-effective than constructing a giant array on Earth and subsequently shipping it into orbit. The curved mirrors that make up the space array would redirect sunlight toward an internal collection of solar panels. Such solar energy would then be transformed into microwaves, according to PopSci.
After the system effectively transforms the solar energy into microwaves, its Earth-facing side would then transmit the low intensity, low frequency waves toward the planet. Power plants scattered throughout the Earth would then absorb the energy waves, ultimately using them to supplement traditional energy generation.
Mankins noted that the design was inspired by nature, and he recently told a group of scientists from NASA that the system would be more effective than other proposed space-based solar energy schemes. He said that the design is based on that of a flower, which uses its petals to collect solar energy. He noted that SPS-ALPHA's mirrors would act as petals, directing solar power to the system's photovoltaic modules.
According to Mankins, the SPS-ALPHA could beam as much as tens of thousands of megawatts back to Earth. The project is part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program.