Experiment Is First Step Toward Solar Power Beamed From Satellites

By Eliza Strickland | September 15, 2008 1:20 pm

solar satelliteIn an experiment that tested technology that could one day be used to transmit solar energy from satellites to Earth, researchers beamed solar energy from one Hawaiian island to another, across a distance of 92 miles. The $1 million experiment was sponsored by the Discovery Channel, which aired an episode about the technology on its Project Earth show on Friday.

The experiment was intended as a proof of concept for an ambitious proposal that calls for huge arrays of solar panels to orbit the Earth, collecting pristine solar radiation, free from the day/night cycles, weather and atmospheric effects that limit solar radiation down on the ground. The energy collected will be “beamed” down to power stations on the surface, either by microwave (or an alternative system, by laser) — and then distributed as normal power across the grid [Discovery Channel]. Backers of this space-based solar technology say the potential benefits are enormous; the non-profit National Space Society says that the sun puts out billions of times more energy than our planet’s population uses.

This experiment, however, operated on a very small scale. Although the amount of power sent, 20 watts, is barely enough to power a small compact fluorescent light bulb, and most of it was lost in transmission, the system was limited by the budget not the physics [Wired News]. The experiment’s leader, former NASA executive and physicist John Mankins, said that if they had been able to afford more solar panels and better receivers they could have boosted efficiency considerably.

Solar-powered satellites won’t just be appearing on TV; both the U.S. military and the Japanese space agency are working on projects of their own. [T]he Air Force Academy recently announced plans for a small demonstration satellite that would beam down a meager, but still significant, 0.1 watts of solar power. “Our vision is to build the world’s first-ever space-based solar power system to light a single bulb on Earth and in so doing light the path for business to follow,” said Col. Michael “Coyote” Smith of the Air Force. [Meanwhile, Japan's] goal is to launch a geostationary satellite by 2030 that could supply 500,000 homes on Earth with a gigawatt of power [LiveScience].

Image: ©Mafic Studios, Inc.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Space, Technology
  • http://nlspropulsion.net mthomas

    Looking for the real satellite technology ?

    http://nlspropulsion.net

  • http://www.mrgogreen.com Mr. Go Green Inc.

    Solar Technology and its application is still in its infant stage and has only scratched the surface on our planet. As governments change there infrastructures to sustain our planets ecological and envirionment needs for a healthly world this small step taken now can and could lead to clean world-wide energy for our future planet.

  • http://www.clean-living.info green living

    Hi, A great blog, I have to admit this is really nicely written, this place definitely needs bloggers like you. Filling the forum with some good tips and information, I did follow A couple of your posts, they been relevant and great points were elaborated. I must say we should invariably be ready to post in our best knowledge to aid people. Really love your site.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »