This Week in Space

Jan 26th 2024

This Week in Space 95

Clean Energy From Space With John Mankins

Hosted by Rod Pyle, Tariq Malik

The Future of Space-Based Solar Power

New episodes posted every Friday.
Guests: John Mankins
Category: News

Climate change has become a top priority for all of us, including NASA. Space solar power—beaming energy from space 24 hours per day—has become a real possibility and is being studied internationally by the US, Europe, Japan, and China. It promises to provide a zero-emissions, zero-carbon source of energy worldwide—but it will take significant investment, development, and commitment. A recent NASA-backed study was positive but careful with its conclusions, and John Mankins, one of the first researchers of SSP in the US who continues to work on the concept, joins us to address the report and to talk about the possible future of limitless, clean, and affordable energy for a hungry world.


  • Mars Ingenuity Helicopter - After a highly successful demonstration flight campaign on Mars with over 70 flights, NASA has announced the pioneering helicopter can no longer fly due to damage sustained to its rotors during its last flight. Despite this setback, Ingenuity has proven that flight is possible on Mars and paved the way for future rotorcraft explorers.
  • SLIM Lander - Japan’s SLIM lunar lander achieved a soft landing on the moon but tipped over on its side during touchdown, limiting its ability to collect science data. Still, Japan is hailing the mission as a success for proving precise landing capabilities that can be applied to future missions.
  • Exoplanet Discovery - The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a new “hot and steamy” exoplanet called GJ 9872d that harbors water vapor in its atmosphere, making scientists excited about its potential to host life even though surface temperatures exceed 700°C.

Main Topic: Space-Based Solar Power

  • Benefits - Space solar power collected in space and beamed wirelessly to Earth is carbon-neutral, available 24/7, and faces no weather disruptions, providing a major clean energy source.
  • Viability - The core concept is scientifically sound and uses proven technology like satellites and wireless transmission. Recent advancements in areas like reusable rockets, modular hardware, and efficient solar cells have made costs far more viable.
  • NASA Study - A recent NASA-commissioned study reached lackluster conclusions about economic feasibility, but used assumptions counter to emerging launch trends on achievable costs for launches and hardware production.
  • International Competition - Other nations like China, Japan, and Europe are investing much more in research and planning than the US currently is, challenging the US to regain leadership in space solar power.
  • Safety - Wireless power transmission systems can be designed to safely beam microwaves at intensities less than natural sunlight.
  • SPS-ALPHA Concept - Modular design using sophisticated tracking mirrors, “sandwich modules” of solar panels, electronics, and transmitters. Features mirrors to keep panels illuminated as satellite orbits. Built of mass-produced, interchangeable parts requiring no new technology.
  • Path Forward - Continue incremental technology advancements and on-orbit demonstrations to build confidence. Involve commercial space companies that can leverage economies of scale. Stress US origins of the concept and opportunity to lead in developing this carbon-free energy source.

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