ESTA今年早些时候,在大卫泰勒模型盆地,在马里兰州的海军海绵体室内波浪池,驻足观看的东西,他们不能看到一小群观众。在该设施的每个端部有一个13英尺长的极具有小立方体栖息在顶部。一个功能强大的红外激光束拍出来的立方体中的一个的,引人注目的阵列 photovoltaic cells 相反立方体内部。肉眼,但是,它看上去就像一大堆的什么都没有。这唯一的证据是什么发生了来自附近的小咖啡壶,这是搅动了只使用由系统产生的电力“激光拿铁”。

激光设置管理传输400瓦特功率足够的用于小家电几家通过数以百计的空气米没有任何的运动质量。海军研究实验室,跑项目,希望利用该系统发力,以无人驾驶飞机在飞行过程中。但NRL电子工程师保罗·贾菲有一个更加雄心勃勃的问题,他在九月景点:太阳能发电从太空喜气洋洋地球。几十年的概念已被保留给将来的,而是一系列技术突破和新的大规模的政府研究计划的建议,可能有遥远的一天终于来到了。

因为对于太阳能太空力量的概念最早出现了艾萨克阿西莫夫科幻小说在20世纪40年代初,科学家和工程师们漂浮几十个提案带来的概念来生活,包括太阳能阵列和充气 robotic self-assembly。但基本概念始终是相同的:在轨道上收集能量的巨型卫星从太阳并将其转换为微波或激光传输到地球,被转换成电能它。日不落的空间,让空间太阳能发电系统可再生能源来供给可以在这个星球,白天或晚上,风雨无阻的任何地方。

像聚变能源,太阳能发电天基似乎注定要成为一个技术,这是始终为30年的时间。技术问题此起彼伏,成本估计未平流层,并作为太阳能电池更便宜,更高效成了,对天基太阳能似乎有所萎缩的情况下。

这并没有不再努力政府研究机构。 1975年,在一系列空间太阳能电力的可行性研究随着能源部合作之后,美国航空航天局使用微波炉巨头菜发射的功率的30千瓦超过一英里。能源是空间太阳能的关键横梁方面,但这种测试仍是技术迄今为止最有力的证明。 “这事实上它已经从NASA的示范近45年来,它仍然是高水位标记,本身就说明了,”杰夫说。 “太阳能的空间是不是一个国家的当务之急,所以很多技术ESTA没有意义的进展。”

John Mankins, a former physicist at NASA and director of Solar Space Technologies, witnessed how government bureaucracy killed space solar power development firsthand. In the late 1990s, Mankins authored a report for NASA that concluded it was again time to take space solar power seriously and led a project to do design studies on a satellite system. Despite some promising results, the agency ended up abandoning it.

In 2005, Mankins left NASA to work as a consultant, but he couldn’t shake the idea of space solar power. He did some modest space solar power experiments himself and even got a grant from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program in 2011. The result was SPS-ALPHA,其中曼金斯称为“第一个实用的太阳能发电卫星。”这个想法曼金斯说,是“建立一个大型的太阳动力卫星出成千上万的小件。”模块化他的设计带来硬件成本显着下降,至少原则。

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贾菲,谁是刚开始在硬件上为海军研究实验室的太阳能空间力量的工作,得到了兴奋曼金斯的概念。当时我开发“夹心模块”由...组成在一侧上的小的太阳能电池板,而在另一微波发射器。他的电子三明治 demonstrated all the elements of an actual space solar power system 500 Internal Server Error

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Jaffe invited Mankins to join a small team of researchers entering a Defense Department competition, in which they were planning to pitch a space solar power 基于SPS-α的概念。在2016年,该小组提出的概念,顶防和最终赢得官员四出于七个奖项类别。无论贾菲和曼金斯将其描述为重振美国政府的太空太阳能发电兴趣的关键时刻。

They might be right. In October, the Air Force Research Lab announced a $100 million program 开发太阳能发电卫星的硬件。这是一个重要的第一步,迈向太空太阳能发电的在轨运行的第一个示范,并曼金斯说这能帮助解决一下我作为太阳能认为空间功率最大的问题:公众的看法。该技术一直似乎是一个乌托邦式的梦想的天空理念和 cost of setting up a solar array on Earth is plummeting. But space solar power has unique benefits, chief among them the availability of solar energy around the clock regardless of the weather or time of day.

It can also provide renewable energy to remote locations, such as forward operating bases for the military. And at a time when wildfires have forced the utility PG&E to kill power for thousands of California residents on multiple occasions, having a way to provide renewable energy through the clouds and smoke doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. (Ironically enough, PG&E entered a first-of-its-kind agreement to buy space solar power from a company called Solaren back in 2009; the system was supposed to start operating in 2016 but never came to fruition.)

“如果太阳能发电的空间工作,它是很难夸大这将是地缘政治影响,”杰夫说。 “有了GPS,我们有点想当然,无论我们在哪里在这个星球上,我们可以得到所需的导航信息。如果能做到同样的事情可能是,这将是革命性的。“

Indeed, there seems to be an emerging race to become the first to harness this technology. Earlier this year China announced its intention to become the first country to build a solar power station in space, and for more than a decade Japan has considered the development of a space solar power station to be a national priority. Now that the US military has joined in with a $100 million hardware development program, it may only be a matter of time before there’s a solar farm in the solar system.


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