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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 DeepBlue1975 on 9/15/2008 9:20:58 AM , Rating: 3
Never say never, mate.

The first cars to appear were mostly a piece of useless junk, automobile technology didn't start to blossom till cars like the Ford T appeared and gained massive presence.

New technologies at first usually don't seem to hold any promise, but many of them actually scale and make it to the market, some even radically changing our lifestyles.

Of course, also many of those new technology proposals end up as wierd projects that get shelved forever... But those, usually are technologies that no one is interested in.

Wireless power transmission is a pretty much desired thing, so I guess we'll be seing more articles about it in the years to come.

RE: efficiency
By Formori on 9/15/2008 11:02:43 AM , Rating: 2
I was going to say something similar to what your saying DeepBlue.

That, 50 years ago would you have thought we'd have wireless broadband communications in something so small as a pocket phone? No way in hell. If you proposed something like that to the technical community back then you would have been laughed out, so just because you don't understand it now don't shove it aside as useless.

"The guy who invented velcro would have been rich, if he knew what he had invented."

And on the note about efficiency, outside the atmosphere energy accessibility does increase 8 to 10 fold, so the efficiency of the panels isn't much of an issue since there's more readily available power. I don't know how safe actually transmitting megaWatts of power across the country is, but I think now that something like this is becoming a more popular idea the safety of it will get looked into more. Or atleast I hope it will.

RE: efficiency
By mattclary on 9/15/2008 11:13:15 AM , Rating: 2
There is a big difference between circuitry miniaturization and changing the laws of physics. Transmitting useful amounts of power wirelessly is not the same thing.

RE: efficiency
By DeepBlue1975 on 9/15/2008 12:46:11 PM , Rating: 3
Now. But who knows which new breakthroughs can be made over time, so that today´s impossibles become possibles without violating any physical law.

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