The Transporter-6 mission successfully launched at 6:55 a.m. PT on January 3 placed the Caltech Space Solar Power Project (SSPP) prototype, the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD) in orbit. It will test several key components of an ambitious plan to harvest solar power in space and beam the energy back to Earth.
Space solar power provides a way to tap into the practically unlimited supply of solar energy in outer space, where the energy is constantly available without being subjected to the cycles of day and night, seasons, and cloud cover.
The launch, currently slated for early January, represents a major milestone in the project and promises to make what was once science fiction a reality. When fully realized, SSPP will deploy a constellation of modular spacecraft that collect sunlight, transform it into electricity, then wirelessly transmit that electricity over long distances wherever it is needed—including to places that currently have no access to reliable power.
A Momentus Vigoride spacecraft carried aboard a SpaceX rocket on the Transporter-6 mission will carry the 50-kilogram SSPD to space. It consists of three main experiments, each tasked with testing a different key technology of the project:
* DOLCE (Deployable on-Orbit ultraLight Composite Experiment): A structure measuring 6 feet by 6 feet that demonstrates the architecture, packaging scheme and deployment mechanisms of the modular spacecraft that would eventually make up a kilometer-scale constellation forming a power station;
* ALBA: A collection of 32 different types of photovoltaic (PV) cells, to enable an assessment of the types of cells that are the most effective in the punishing environment of space;
* MAPLE (Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment): An array of flexible lightweight microwave power transmitters with precise timing control focusing the power selectively on two different receivers to demonstrate wireless power transmission at distance in space.
An additional fourth component of SSPD is a box of electronics that interfaces with the Vigoride computer and controls the three experiments.
SSPP got its start in 2011 after philanthropist Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company and a lifetime member of the Caltech Board of Trustees. Over $100 million will have been funded.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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