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Solar Energy From Space

The National Space Society held a press conference this morning to announce a breakthrough in wireless power transmission.  In a demonstration, they’ve been able to transmit power wirelessly a distance of 148km between Hawaiian islands.  This distance, when pointed straight up, is great enough to reach up into the Thermosphere beyond the accepted boundary between our planet and space.  The idea is that solar panels can be launched into space where they can collect energy, and “beam” that energy back down to Earth.

This has a few important implications.  Above the Earth’s atmosphere, solar power is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The energy is available in its most concentrated form, without any of it having been diffused, absorbed, or reflected by our atmosphere.  There’s no such thing as cloud cover above the atmosphere.  With the ability to transmit it wirelessly, it can theoretically be beamed down to any location on Earth, powering up otherwise hard to reach places, underdeveloped areas, or potentially restoring emergency power during a disaster.

The NSS has created a 2 minute video demonstation of the wireless transmission technology:

The downside of course, is having to launch massive objects into space that would dwarf even the International Space Station.  NSS is confident this will be possible, and possible soon.  With the issue of wireless power transmission solved, the last major hurdle is cost-effective and efficient launch vehicles.  Just a few days ago, another commercial enterprise SpaceX was granted license to use the Cape Canavral launch site.  It’s nice to see private enterprises pushing space technology forward, looking for ways to put it to practical use, and most of all, to see that for a change the government isn’t hindering the process! So while we’re not 100% there, there are pieces falling into place that might make big ideas like this a reality.

The NSS conference this morning was to raise awareness of the technology, and to plug Discovery Project Earth: Orbital Power Plant, which airs on the Discovery channel tonight at 10PM EST.  If you’re interested in seeing more about this tech, you’ll probably want to tune in, as the NSS project will be the topic.

NASA has also published an informational DVD about solar power in space that you can watch in its entirety free of charge here care of NSS & Google Video.

  • mthomas

    Space-Based Microwave Power

    The Future for Earth Energy

  • Michael Martin-Smith

    SPS offers solar power on Earth in sufficient concentration to fuel industrail development for a growing population aspiring to a better lifestyle. Fossil fuels are dirty and exhaustible. Nuclear power, especially since the Japanese tsunami, are unsaleable and will be increasingly expensive to render acceptable. Wind Power is unreliable, ( 20-30% efficient at best)and fails on cold, still days, eg in the UK’s recent winter, just when it could have been useful!
    Solar power based on roof tops etc is capricious, and too diffuse for largescale replacement of traditional energy sources.

    The alternatives to economical space derived solar power and ultimate expansion beyond Earth are Malthusian ( artifical famine as pioneered by Mao Zedong)or Orwellian ( increasing control over all thought, life and aspiration) Both are increasingly favoured by Green inspired political would-be tyrants.
    Neither is acceptable to those who aspire to a human(e) future for their descendants.

    “The Earth is the Cradle of Mind – but no-one lives in the Cradle forever!”