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

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robo sidekicks, AC for your bed, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix in August, from ‘Arrested Development’ to ‘Dark Tourist’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, or tons of features.
Emerging Tech

Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day be used for building greenhouse-like habitats on Mars.
Emerging Tech

Los Angeles subway to become first in the U.S. to use body scanners

Los Angeles is set to become the first city in the U.S. to use body scanners on its subway. The machines are portable and quick to set up, and can check around 2,000 people an hour without causing lines or delays for passengers.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Regular Wi-Fi can accurately detect bombs, chemicals, and weapons in bags

Surveillance cameras and bag searches have become commonplace when it comes to security in public venues. But researchers may have found a different way to detect suspicious items: regular Wi-Fi.
Gaming

How to connect a Nintendo Switch controller to your PC

Nintendo's Switch controllers, including the Joy-Cons and the aptly titled Pro Controller, use Bluetooth, which makes them compatible with your PC. Here's how to start using them for PC gaming.
Emerging Tech

Buying on a budget? Here’s all the best tech you can snag for $25 or less

We live in a world where you can get a cheeseburger for $1, a functioning computer for $5, and thousands of HD movies for $10 -- so it stands to reason that you should be able to pick up some pretty sweet gear for $25.
Emerging Tech

Engineers have made a new type of lithium battery that won’t explode

While statistically rare, the lithium-ion batteries used in mobile devices have been known to burst into flames. Researchers from University of Michigan have been working to change that.
Emerging Tech

Genetically engineered bacteria paint microscopic masterpieces

By engineering E. coli bacteria to respond to light, scientists at the University of Rome have guided it like tiny drones toward patterns that depict Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to dig a tunnel to Dodger Stadium

Elon Musk's Boring Company wants to build a high-speed transportation tunnel connecting Dodger Stadium to a nearby Metro station. The system would run 150-mph passenger pods between the stadium and a terminus to the west.
Emerging Tech

Watch as a ‘lifeguard drone’ rescues a swimmer struggling at sea

These days, drones are finding a range of roles in a myriad of fields. Lifeguards, for example, are making use of the drone's ability to quickly deploy flotation devices while also offering an eye in the sky to survey the scene.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? Here are the best drones on the market right now

To help you navigate the increasingly large and ever-changing landscape of consumer UAVs, here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now