NASA’s latest dream? Delivering solar power to Earth via satellites. Agency veteran John Mankins is spearheading the project, which is still in its developmental stages.
It’s called the Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array, or SPS-ALPHA for short.
As seen in the video above, the satellite — which looks a bit like a margarita glass — will capture solar rays while using microwave transmission panels to beam converted solar energy back to Earth in the form of radio waves, all thanks to its unique shape.
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The radio wave receivers on Earth will be a large conglomeration of diodes woven together to create a mesh-like structure that can be placed anywhere on the planet. It could be hung over farmland, remote areas, and even disaster sites, where power is rare or nonexistent.
According to a conversation Mankins had with Vice, his insistence on low-intensity microwave transmitters means that “the receiver on Earth will be large — about 6 to 8 km in diameter, positioned 5 to 10 meters above the ground.”
The SPS-ALPHA still requires some tweaks, since the solar power plant tends to overheat as it receives and converts energy. In order to address this, Mankin suggests increasing the efficiency of the solar cells or developing materials that would make the solar cells and electronics capable of functioning at higher temperatures.
The power plant’s physical size is also an issue — so Mankins plans to use a carbon composite to keep the machine light and practical.
The concept of solar power from space has been met with criticism in the past. In the 1970s, when the idea for a solar-energy space module was first introduced, critics dismissed it due to the astronomical costs.
However, Mankin posits that the SPS-ALPHA will reflect the technological advances of the past 40 years, and can now sport better technology at a significantly lower price. If the team manages to complete all the tweaks, SPS-ALPHA could be launched by 2025.
What do you think of the concept of solar power from space? Do you think this is the next step in our search for sustainable energy? Let us know in the comments, below.