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An artist rendering of the potential orbiting solar plant. It would beam power to a massive lake-sized collector for optimal efficiency.   (Source: Kris Holland/Mafic Studios)

John C. Mankins, since leaving NASA, has spoken about his dream of space power both at various high profile news conferences. Now he has his biggest audience yet, with a historic proof-of-concept test airing on the Discovery channel.  (Source: Space Power Association)
New advances in power transmission would make Tesla proud

After decades of dormancy, interest in transmitting power wirelessly is finally heating up in the tech community.  Intel recently demoed its new wireless charging tech which it says could power its next generation chipsets.  Now, a former NASA researcher is revealing even grander plans to transform the business of power generation as we know it.

Funded by the Discovery Channel, John C. Mankins finished a four month experiment which began by collecting solar power, nothing out of the ordinary.  What happened next was relatively extraordinary, though -- he transmitted the power 92 miles (148 km) between two Hawaiian Islands. 

Terrestrial power transmission is only of interest to Mr. Mankins as a proof of concept.  Mr. Mankins' true plans are out of this world.  He envisions a network of 1,102 lb. (500 kg) satellites beaming solar power collected from panels back to Earth, satisfying all the world's power needs.

After working loyally for NASA for 25 years, he resigned after the solar program at the agency was terminated.  Now he's completed one of the more ambitious transmission experiments in history -- enough to make Nikola Tesla, the man who first envisioned wireless power transmission, proud.

The work still has a long way to go, though.  The transmission only successfully received one one-thousandth of the total power sent, a very low efficiency.  This was primarily because the receivers were so tiny.  Larger receivers, would still be rather inefficient, but could in theory, achieve much higher efficiencies.  Furthermore, the costs were relatively high at $1M USD, but Mr. Mankins believes the costs would decrease as the technology was scaled up.

In total each of the nine solar panels in the transmission assembly sent 2 watts of power.  They were originally equipped to send 20 watts, but the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would only approve the lower power transmissions.

The encouraging results have reaffirmed Mr. Mankins' commitment to one day bring space-based solar power to the world.  His vision is that one day a fleet of satellites will beam power down to lake-sized receivers.  He enthuses, "The test was in no way fully successful, (but) I think it showed it is possible to transmit solar power quickly and affordably."

Mr. Mankins is president of ARTEMIS Innovation Management Solutions LLC, a startup which provides "strategic planning, technology assessment, and R&D management objectives" to government agencies.  He is also president of the Space Power Association.

The U.S. military is investigating similar plans to use satellite based solar power to beam power to troops on the battlefield.

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RE: efficiency
By FITCamaro on 9/15/2008 9:00:44 AM , Rating: 0
It also creates huge safety issues.

RE: efficiency
By masher2 on 9/15/2008 11:35:28 AM , Rating: 2
There really isn't that much of a safety concern. I'd be far more worried about the interference effects of transmitting high-power beams of radio waves through the ionosphere. The FAA apparently wouldn't let them transmit more than 2 watts for this reason. Even in a secluded location, what a 2,000,000,000 watt beam going to do?

RE: efficiency
By 67STANG on 9/15/2008 12:14:29 PM , Rating: 2
In the U.S., the FCC has very strict regulations on wireless transmission power, which varies based upon frequency. I'm not sure what frequency is used, but nearly everything in public frequencies is not allowed to go past 2W on the power rating.

If the FAA would just mandate that air liners are made with integrated faraday worries.

RE: efficiency
By menace on 9/15/2008 2:45:44 PM , Rating: 3

A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure formed by conducting material, or by a mesh of such material.

Airliners are made of aluminum. Aluminum is highly conductive. This makes them faraday cages by definition. Even composite structures have a matrix embedded to make them conductive. Otherwise lightning strikes could easily knock out critical avionics.

RE: efficiency
By 67STANG on 9/15/2008 4:14:06 PM , Rating: 2
That's true... that is the word for word definition copied from wikipedia, thanks.

I always thought an effective Faraday Cage had to be closed on all sides with no exposure like cockpit windows, etc. I stand corrected.

RE: efficiency
By masher2 on 9/15/2008 4:30:38 PM , Rating: 2
> "I always thought an effective Faraday Cage had to be closed on all sides with no exposure like cockpit windows"

Electrodynamics tells us that an electric field can't penetrate a hollow conductor. If that conducting shell isn't perfect, however (such as from cockpit windows or other openings) some EM can leak in. The depth and amount, though, depends on the size of the void as compared to the wavelength of the radiation.

Light, for instance, can leak in through a pinprick. Microwaves run a few centimeters in wavelength, though, and will see things like very coarse metal screens as effectively "solid".

RE: efficiency
By masher2 on 9/15/2008 3:42:45 PM , Rating: 2
> "If the FAA would just mandate that air liners are made with integrated faraday worries. "

As the prior poster points out, they already are...except for their antenna and systems which need to communicate with the air and ground. Fully shield an aircraft in a Faraday cage, and it's out of radio communication, and flying blind without radar. Not exactly a great idea.

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