NASA funds giant flower-shaped satellite concept, could provide solar energy for Earthlings

NASA-funds-giant-flower-shaped-satellite-concept,-could-provide-solar-energy-for-Earthlings

As the world continues to gobble up massive amounts of non-renewable energy at an alarming rate, various companies, institutions, and governing bodies are undertaking a concerted effort to seek alternatives. While many innovative and renewable energy solutions are introduced, however, a great number of ideas fail to evolve from concept to reality. But according to Space.com, one such interesting – and potentially crazy – concept is getting some attention and funding from NASA.

SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array) is a large biomimetic – which refers to human-made devices or systems that imitate nature — flower-shaped solar satellite designed to harness the power of the sun, and beam it back down to Earth. Although it might sound fantastical, even when talking about it as a mere concept, the idea of a space-based solar array actually makes sense for a few reasons – at least in theory.

Unlike solar panels placed here on Earth (or whatever planet you’re reading this from) that are unable to generate power once the sun goes down, a solar panel based in space has the luxury of being exposed to the sun’s rays without interruption. Also, because there is virtually no atmosphere in space there is nothing to impede the sun’s rays from reaching the energy generating panels.

Of course, there are many, many drawbacks to a solar-power satellite concept. One such obvious drawback centers on cost and maintenance of such an array. Shooting anything into space is generally pretty darn expensive.

Another hurdle centers on just how much energy would actually be generated from such an array, not to mention exactly how it would get transported back to the planet. As it stands now, wireless energy transmission hasn’t exactly been perfected and has only recently started to take off commercially. But according to the concept leader, John Mankins of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, the SPS-ALPHA apparently addresses most of these problems.

sps-alpha-solar-power

While the installation may resembled a giant flower, thanks to its modular design, it’s actually an array of small (110 to 440 pound) individually controlled thin-film mirrors. These mirrors redirect incoming sunlight toward photovoltaic cells positioned to the backside (the side facing the sun) of the satellites array.

Once collected, the front side of the array (the side facing the earth), which is covered in microwave-power transmitters, gathers energy and beams it down to Earth as low-intensity radio frequency energy. According to Mankins, the possible construction of these large platforms have the potential to deliver tens to thousands of megawatts by utilizing wireless power transmission, which send all that renewable energy back home.

Mankins also points out that the concept could be developed and sent to space relatively cheaply because the individual elements making up the large array can be assembled and produced on a mass production scale. And by keeping the weight of individual panels no more than 110 to 440 pounds — heavier objects are more expensive to blast up into space — cost will be “dramatically lowered.”

Right now, it all sounds pretty far off, and far-fetched. Although, NASA is reportedly impressed enough with the concept to provide some funding for the project, and develop small-scale prototypes as well as initial design work. 

[Image via NASA/John Mankins]

Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Web

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. Here are some of the best subreddits to get you started.
Home Theater

Banish the bunny ears (and monthly bills) with these excellent HD antennas

When transitioning away from cable and satellite, finding the best HDTV antenna for your area can be touch. To help, we've compiled our picks of the best indoor HDTV antennas you can buy.
Home Theater

QLED and OLED may have similar names, but they're totally different technologies

The names may look almost identical, but OLED and QLED are two entirely different beasts. In our QLED vs. OLED battle, we dissect the differences between these dueling TV technologies, and help determine which might be best for you.
Home Theater

The seven best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.