NASA has given initial funding to develop a project involving a satellite that could harvest solar energy and beam it down to Earth to be used in our electricity grid.
This is not a new idea, the possibility doing this in one form or another has been around for some years, but this is the first concept that has garnered enough interest to attract funding for further development. The initial funding will be used for a feasibility and proof of concept study. The concept has been proposed by former NASA engineer John Mankins, now with Artemis Innovation Management Solutions.
If the structure of the satellite looks familiar to you, that’s because Mankins has taken a bio-mimetic approach to the design; that is, the design is based on the structure and function of biological systems. As you can see, the structure looks quite a lot like a flower, and uses the petals (many small mirrors) to direct sunlight to attached solar cells.
It has been proposed that the solar cells will then convert the energy to microwaves, which will be beamed to a receiving station back on Earth.
Part of the contraint on the project would be to keep costs down. This could be achieved by using small, lightweight, thin–filmed mirrors and solar cells. In addition, because of its component-based construction, costs would be lower than previously proposed solar power satellite concepts.
If development of the concept goes well, a next stage would probably see the construction of an small, inexpensive version of the solar satellite launched in a near Earth orbit. If that worked out, it would be followed by a full scale version.
I hope the project does work out, as it would be a great technological achievement to have a full scale version up there in orbit delivering power back to Earth. No doubt it would not be anything like the full solution needed to fulfil the world’s renewable energy hopes and dreams, but a project like this could apparently deliver as much as tens of thousands of megawatts of power.
We’ll be watching this project with great interest.