In the shape of a tulip, the large-scale system, known as Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array (SPS-ALPHA), will include thousands of curved mirrors that would bounce light from the sun onto photovoltaic panels.

The sunlight would then be converted into microwaves, which are then transferred to Earth and used as a conventional power supply.

According to NASA, the vision of harvesting solar power in space and delivering it to markets from large platforms in Earth orbit has been known for decades.

However, early solar power satellite (SPS) architectures were technically complex and unlikely to prove economically viable, but current technology has made the prospect feasible.

In a recent interview with Motherboard, Dr John Mankins, who has been commissioned by NASA to test the feasibility of the project, said: “A single solar power satellite would deliver power to on the order of a third of humanity – not all at the same time, but any of that market could, in principle, be addressed.”

Stating on the NASA website, Mankins says the SPS-ALPHA “is a novel, bio-mimetic approach to the challenge of space solar power”.

“If successful, this project will make possible the construction of huge platforms from tens of thousands of small elements that can deliver remotely and affordably 10s to 1000s of megawatts using wireless power transmission to markets on Earth and missions in space,” he adds.

NASA has recently pushed the idea forward because of the increased efficiency and reduced cost of solar panels.

Highlighting the benefits of developing a spaced-based power supply, the space agency has said that it will not rely on weather patterns and night and day cycles like on Earth.

Leigh Stringer

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