Mankins Space Technology, Inc.

Santa Maria, CA, United States
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  • Energy and Environment

  • California | Georgia | Japan | Space

  • Economically disadvantaged people

  • Business

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Executive Summary

Today there is no challenge facing humanity more urgent or important than that of mitigating Climate Change (by drastically reducing CO2 emissions) while deploying new, affordable energy resources capable of being deployed worldwide at levels up to terawatts during the coming several decades. Current sustainable energy solutions (e.g., wind & solar) are intermittent and highly distributed alone they cannot provide power 24 7 for urban markets. Our solution Solar Power Satellites via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array (SPS ALPHA) will rely on established technologies (many used in communications satellites) in novel ways to harvest solar energy in space (where sunshine is almost constant) and deliver that energy safely and affordably to markets globally. By 2100 SPS ALPHA could deliver inexpensive zero Carbon electricity to markets across the world enabling sustainable economic development for billions of people in India, China, the Pacific, sub Saharan Africa and across the world.

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The Problem

Although tremendous progress has been made, and will continue to be made in the development and deployment of economically viable sustainable energy - primarily solar and wind power - for diverse markets, nevertheless the energy needs of the developing world continue to demand new fossil fuel power plants. Unless ALL new construction of fossil fuel power plants ceases (and soon) while affordable new power generation continues to come "on line", the conflicting goals of improving the quality of life globally, while cutting CO2 emissions will be impossible. At present, the world population is almost 7.5 billion, total global electricity annual demand is roughly 20,000 25,000 GW hours, and the average temperature of the world has increased by some 2 C compared to preindustrial levels. By century's end, the world population is forecast to grow to (perhaps) more than 11 billion, while the total demand for energy could quadruple. During the same decades, humanity hopes to reduce global CO2 production. Conventional solar, wind and hydro power are crucial, but will not by themselves provide baseload power critical to industrial society necessary to provide a high quality of life for those billions. Vast increases in nuclear power are one option, but brings its own challenges in the form of waste disposal, the risk of accidents, global security concerns and other issues. This is the problem. The project proposed "swings for the fences" with a solution that is technically feasible, but little known and generally not accepted by policy makers for reasons of perception, not engineering.

Proposed Solution

On Earth, roughly 1,000 Watts per square meter of noontime sunlight are received at the equator on a clear and sunny day. With improving economics, the use of PV arrays has expanded dramatically. Unfortunately, solar energy is unavailable at night, and dramatically diminished in northern latitudes, when the weather is overcast or stormy, in winter, etc. As a result, to be used for baseload power, ground solar energy must be stored sometimes for days or weeks drastically increasing its cost. However, in space (in a high Earth orbit), solar energy (around 1,400 Watts per square meter) is almost continuously available. The central issues for Space Solar are that it is unproven, and past concepts would have required dramatic and costly advances in space technology to realize. SPS ALPHA overcomes these issues with existing technology, but no one will believe invest until it is proven. The proposed project will demonstrate a novel solution - Solar Power Satellites via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array (SPS ALPHA) - that can be readily proven from Earth orbit with an investment of $100M. Once proven - in engineering and economic terms - within 10 15 years the deployment of full scale SPS ALPHA platforms (each delivering roughly 2 GW at $10B $15B) could begin to deliver near zero CO2 solar energy to global markets. In the same way that the terrestrial solar industry has grown in 20 years from less than 100 megawatts deployed per year to multiple gigawatts annually, Space Solar can grow to deployment of terawatts by century's end.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Space solar power was first proposed early in the space age by Dr. Peter Glaser in the 1960s. As noted above, there is no question that Space Solar is technically feasible; this has been established frequently - from US studies in the late 1970s (DOE & NASA) and the 1990s (NASA), reviews by the National Academy of Sciences (1980, 2001), and a review by the International Academy of Astronautics (2011). You may wish to see: http://iaaweb.org/iaa/Studies/sg311_finalreport_solarpower.pdf https://www.nap.edu/read/10202/chapter/1 Critical technical elements of the proposed project have been proven time and again since the 1960s; the key technologies (different architecture) are used in communications satellites. For example, the physics of microwave wireless power transmission were proven in the mid 1960s by the original inventor William (Bill) Brown on the Walter Cronkite News Hour, by Brown and Dick Dickinson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1975, and repeatedly during later years. See: http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/wptvideo.htm More recently, a key members of the proposed team (John C. Mankins, Prof. Nobuyuki Kaya, Dr. Frank Little) successfully demonstrated microwave power transmission technology over 140 plus kilometers in Hawaii; see: https://www.wired.com/2008/09/visionary beams/ A large number of publications and presentations have been assembled at the National Space Society; see: http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/ Concerning the SPS ALPHA concept specifically, it is admittedly new; however, the concept has been studied under the auspices of NASA, and it relies on a host of innovations that are common in terrestrial markets, and in emerging small satellite constellations. See: https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/716070main_Mankins_2011_PhI_SPS_Alpha.pdf https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_satellite

Previous Performance

The team assembled for this proposal is remarkably strong. For example, I am recognized as the current leading expert in the field of Space Solar Power, with more than 20 years in the field (see: https://www.amazon.com/Case Space Solar Power ebook/dp/B00HNZ0Z96). Moreover, during my 25 years at NASA, I managed a wide variety of technology intensive programs and projects, ranging from specific projects at to the roughly $900M per year Exploration Systems Research and Technology (ER&T) program in the early 2000s (see: https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/185139main_1st_exp_conf_discussionPanel2.pdf). All in all, it is safe to say that I am one of a handful of individuals globally with experience managing large scale innovation focused space technology development and systems demonstration efforts. Others who have agreed to participate in the project are similarly experienced in the areas of specialization. Prof. Nobuyuki Kaya (Prof. Emeritus from Kobe University) is the world's foremost expert in the field of microwave wireless power transmission (WPT) using retrodirective phase control. Dr. James McSpadden (Raytheon) is one of the US's leading experts in WPT. Dr. Neville Marzwell with more than 25 years at JPL is a leading expert in robotic space systems. Dr. John Olds is former Space Systems Laboratory Director at Georgia Tech, and a known expert in systems analysis and design. Deep Space Industries (Daniel Faber) is a New Space firm with direct recent experience in designing and developing affordable small satellites and projects of the sort we need. The others are similarly strong, and ready to undertake this important effort.

The Team

Team Purpose

The purpose of the lead organization (Mankins Space Technology, Inc.) is to develop affordable space solar power systems for terrestrial and space markets: i.e., the purpose of the lead organization is the same as the purpose of the project. Other organizations have agreed to participate in the project based on special areas of expertise contributing directly to the objective of the project. For the past 20 plus years, I have been working on this specific problem: enabling a better quality of life on Earth, reducing CO2 emissions and potentially transforming the future through this innovation. My background in advanced technology, space systems and energy R&D coupled with a network of diverse subject matter experts (SMEs), organizations in the US and internationally (universities, companies and NGOs) represents a unique foundation from which to solve the challenge of vast new sustainable energy resources through the concept of the solar power satellite.

Team Structure

The participants will comprise four major groups: the project lead (Mankins Space Technology, Inc.), highly focused systems but semi independent technology development contractors; a launch to Earth orbit service provider; and a project evaluation effort. The team will include: (1) the lead firm (Mankins Space Technology, Inc.; a new company in the space sector) to accomplish project management, international coordination, financial management, reporting & communications, and providing ground demonstration testbed & testing, test support equipment and common interfaces and fixtures, and robotic manipulators), flight operations management (including providing the location for the experimental ground receiver); (2) Several contracted services, including: (a) systems modeling & prototyping (SpaceWorks), (b) interconnects, connecting structures & a daughter cubesat (BLINK), (c) wireless power transmission (Transmitter & Receiver) (AMA and Raytheon), (d) solar power generation modules, (e) thin Film reflector modules (L'Garde), (f) WiFi and software development (XISP), (g) host platform & systems (Deep Space Industries), (h) environment / anechoic chamber testing (NRL), and (i) international coordination & communications (SPACE Canada); (3) a launch services contractor, to be chosen based on schedule and price; and (4) an evaluation effort, details to be determined, but including engagement of the International Academy of Astronautics to provide technical oversight.