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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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Space-based energy collectors
By Paperdoc on 9/15/2008 10:21:55 AM , Rating: 2
Just what we need - more solar energy at the earth's surface! Think carefully about the Global Warming phenomenon and its mechanism. The earth constantly receives a huge influx of energy from the sun. Most of the higher-energy infrared (heat) energy gets re-radiated into space at slightly lower energies, but still at wavelengths that can penetrate through our atmosphere and escape. But whenever we "use" energy in all forms, we end up releasing low-energy (longer wavelength) infrared that cannot penetrate the atmosphere and is trapped there, close to our surface. It becomes part of the atmospheric energy pool that creates our weather. That is called the "Greenhouse Effect".

Recent attention has been focussed on how we are altering our atmosphere by adding more gases to it (like carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels)that increase the Greenhouse Effect by trapping more infrared energy in the atmosphere. And of course, at the same time we are releasing more low-energy IR or "waste heat". But this proposal to collect huge amounts of energy in space, beam it to earth, and use it here means we will create even more "waste heat" as we increase out energy consumption. It would avoid the limits we face on existing earth-bound sources of energy by bringing in an external supply. That will allow us to make the Greenhouse Effect worse in a different way. Instead of trapping low-grade heat more efectively in the atmosphere, we would just create more low-grade heat to be trapped. Same results!! Buy more Arizona beachfront property-to-be!

By Indianapolis on 9/15/2008 11:39:36 AM , Rating: 2
This was also my first thought when I read this article. Harnessing solar energy that is already reaching the earth seems rather innocuous, but are we sure that directing more of the sun's energy to the earth is a good idea? Maybe the effect will be small relatively speaking, but it kinda seems like putting the earth in a microwave.

RE: Space-based energy collectors
By masher2 on 9/15/2008 12:14:42 PM , Rating: 2
The Earth receives some 175,000,000 Gigawatts of power from the sun. Transmitting a few extra GW down isn't going to make an appreciable difference. . . especially if the solar satellite is otherwise occluding sunlight from the surface for at least part of its orbit.

RE: Space-based energy collectors
By mindless1 on 9/16/2008 10:45:23 AM , Rating: 2
False logic. Until we are able to harness those 175,000,000 GW the factor is still what we can generate by whatever means necessary. It all makes a difference, one GW at a time. The worst thing is to do what you are doing, make excuses why we should theorize instead of actually DOING. Always DO, never shun DOING. There is no excuse to not DO, no matter what you might thing would be better because those better things are things we AREN'T DOING!!

Once we're doing the things you idealize about, only then will there be no reason to pursue other alternatives. That's not happening, so we are left with all the alternatives we can implement one step at a time. It really doesn't matter if something else is hypothetically better, if we want to take that attitude then even posting here on Dailytech is hypothetically worse than doing other things.

RE: Space-based energy collectors
By masher2 on 9/16/2008 12:19:09 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know how you could possibly manage to misunderstand my post to such a shocking extent, but I suggest you reread it. I wasn't criticising the possibility of solar power satellites; far from it, in fact. I was merely pointing out that such satellites, on any reasonable scale, possibly increase surface temperatures globally.

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