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NASA's Plan To Provide World With Out Of Box Solar Energy

Here is the NASA's latest dream! Providing solar power to Earth via special designed 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.

A cocktail glass-shaped satellite that could provide a third of the world's required energy by 2025. The design was created by Dr John Mankins who was commissioned by Nasa to explore the possibility of using solar panels in space to send energy to Earth.

What Dr Mankins came up with was an incredible floating satellite named the SPS-ALPHA, or Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array. In a recent interview with Becky Ferreria at Motherboard, Dr Mankins claimed that, depending on funding, SPS-ALPHA could be launched by as early as 2025.

'A single solar power satellite would deliver power to on the order of a third of humanity—not all at the same time, but any of that market could, in principle, be addressed,' he said. The technology would mean that energy would beamed down to Earth where power stations would pick it up and farm it out to customers.

The system would be made up of thousands of thin, curved mirror-like pieces which could move around to ensure that they picked up as much sun as possible.

The inside of the SPS-ALPHA would also be lined with photovaltic panels which convert the sun’s energy into microwaves. These microwaves would then be beamed down to Earth out of the bottom end of the ‘cocktail glass’.

Dr Mankins, who runs California-based firm Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, claims that the system would be much cheaper than some alternatives like a single array that could go around Earth.

On the NASA website Dr Mankins writes the project is a ‘a novel, bio-mimetic approach to the challenge of space solar power’. ‘If successful, this project will make possible the construction of huge platforms from tens of thousands of small elements that can deliver remotely and affordably 10s to 1000s of megawatts using wireless power transmission to markets on Earth and missions in space,' he said.

Solar energy available in space is billions of times greater than we use on Earth and beaming it down has long been seen as the answer to our dwindling energy supplies. Last year researchers at Stratchclyde University tested equipment in space that could collect energy and transfer it back to earth through microwaves or lasers.

The project waspart of a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study led by Dr Mankins.  The role of the team at the University of Strathclyde was to develop innovative solutions for the structural elements of the project.

The researchers hope to eventually produce a 'swarm' of satellites that could one day power whole cities. Initially the tiny satellites wouldn't replace ordinary power grids - instead, they could swiftly resupply power to disaster areas or outlying districts that are difficult to reach.

A 'receiver' on Earth would turn the precisely targeted microwave or laser beams into usable electricity. Dr Massimiliano Vasile, of the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions.'

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