NASA is providing Artemis Innovation Management Solutions with seed money to build a satellite that could collect solar energy and beam it back down to Earth. Harvesting solar energy from space has been talked about for a long time, but has been deemed too expensive or the technology just wasn't there. Now with former NASA engineer John Mankins at the helm, it looks like this concept is finally set to take off.
The turning point for this technology is all due to the biomimetic design that Mankins came up with, which mimics how flower petals collect solar energy. The petals would be covered with small, thin-film mirrors that could be curved to direct sunlight to solar cells. The satellite would be positioned far enough away from the Earth so that it will never be in the dark. The energy collected would be converted into microwaves that could be beamed or broadcast back to Earth where electricity would be generated. The design allows for the use of small, lightweight mirrors and solar cells so that the satellite could be constructed and transported at a not-ridiculous cost.
The potential for this technology is huge. The satellite could feasibly send a constant stream of microwaves because of its position -- possibly thousands of megawatts worth. That constant stream of unlimited energy would utlimately make any upfront costs totally negligible and could bring a huge leap in amount of renewable energy fed to the grid. Truly, this is the stuff that clean tech dreams are made of.
The NASA funding is for a proof of concept study that could lead to a prototype being built if all checks out. That prototype would then be tested in near-Earth orbit and then, fingers crossed, full scale satellites would be built and launched.
Images via John Mankins
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