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Power Beaming For UAVs and Space Elevators

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the beam-me-up-jim dept.

Power 137

An anonymous reader writes "The idea of power beaming — using lasers or microwaves to transmit usable energy over great distances — has been around for decades. But recent advances in cheaper, more energy-efficient diode lasers have made power beaming commercially viable. LaserMotive, based in Kent, WA, is best known for winning the Level 1 prize of the NASA Power Beaming Challenge at the Space Elevator Games last November. In a new interview with Xconomy, LaserMotive co-founder Tom Nugent, who previously worked on the 'photonic fence' mosquito-zapping project at Intellectual Ventures, talks about gearing up for Level 2 of the NASA competition, slated for later this year. What's more, LaserMotive is trying to build a real business around beaming power to unmanned aerial vehicles, remote sensors and military bases, and other locations where it's impractical to run a wire, change batteries, or truck in fuel. The ultimate goal is to beam large amounts of solar power to Earth."

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Sounds cool (2, Informative)

socceroos (1374367) | about 4 years ago | (#31841672)

I'm surprised that with all the recent news of NASA being marginalized that they can still have competitions like this? Or have I just got the wrong impression of the state of NASA's future?

GNAA Confirms Link Between Wal-Mart and The Bilder (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31841684)

Monday, March 22, 2010

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About Wal-Mart:

Money Laundering arm of the Bilderberg Group.

About InfoWars:

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Re:Sounds cool (-1, Offtopic)

Cryacin (657549) | about 4 years ago | (#31841692)

They save a TON of money by outsourcing the purchase of sharks to organisations like this. Come to think of it, they should see if they could get Wall St interested. A ton of em over there.

Re:Sounds cool (2, Insightful)

Laser Dan (707106) | about 4 years ago | (#31841836)

I'm surprised that with all the recent news of NASA being marginalized that they can still have competitions like this? Or have I just got the wrong impression of the state of NASA's future?

The prizes are tiny compared to NASAs budget, and save them a lot of time and resources.

They get multiple groups working on something and only have to pay the prize to the best, so I'd say it's pretty efficient for them. Not so much for the teams that don't win though.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31841878)

It's productive for all the teams though.. having a clear focus, competition and a cash prize to win does a lot to drive productivity.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

timmarhy (659436) | about 4 years ago | (#31841936)

ok go out finance a team in a NASA prise for a few 100k, fail to win then lets see you tell us it's productive.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

norpy (1277318) | about 4 years ago | (#31841968)

assuming you aren't already an R&D firm that wants to collect patentable inventions....

Re:Sounds cool (1)

timmarhy (659436) | about 4 years ago | (#31842100)

1. whats the t&c's on these competitions? you might find anything you invent for the comp isn't your property

2. merely patenting something doesn't make you money

Re:Sounds cool (2, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31842140)

whats the t&c's on these competitions? you might find anything you invent for the comp isn't your property

You may be completely ignorant of the Centennial Challenges program too..

Having actually spoken with competitors I can tell you that they all say they're glad they entered the competition even when they don't win.

Re:Sounds cool (0, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | about 4 years ago | (#31842290)

i don't really give a fuck what warm and fuzzy feeling the nerds on the ground had about it. my point is it's probably not great for 9 out of 10 teams that enter it financially.

more power to NASA if they can find suckers to do their work for peanuts though...

Re:Sounds cool (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31842414)

I hate to tell you this, but it's usually not financially great for the person who wins either. The prize hardly ever covers the development costs. From a purely "let's start a team to win the prize" standpoint its a really dumb idea. Now, if you have a clue, you'll be wondering why *anyone* enters the competition. For the answer to that question, read the article... the activity that the prize is an incentive for is commercially interesting. Without the prize, people would still be interested in it but they wouldn't have as much incentive to get their shit together within the timeline of the competition. This also explains how to go about making a good competition... find something you want to encourage that people are doing *anyway* and offer a prize for them to show some progress by a deadline.

Re:Sounds cool (4, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | about 4 years ago | (#31842808)

From:
http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/428439main_Space_technology.pdf [nasa.gov]

"The return on investment with prizes is exceptionally high as NASA expends no funds unless the
accomplishment is demonstrated."

Am I the only one thinking that perhaps they should structure more government contracts like this?
With a focus on "expends no funds unless the accomplishment is demonstrated".

Which I would have thought should be a requirement for all government contracts but sadly is not.

It increases the risk to the companies involved but that just means you need to make the winnings pot a decent size.

Stop fucking around with these tiny little prizes of 1 or 2 million dollars and offer pots that would make a venture capitalist salivate( like 500 million dollars for the bellow)

"put at least one human being on the moon and bring him back to earth safely and collect *list of samples* and place *list of scientific equipment* on the lunar surface"

For comparison:
the space shuttle: 115 missions (as of 6 August 2006) - total cost $150 billion

at the moment prize pots seem to always be trivial quantities of money compared to the rest of the budget.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 4 years ago | (#31844108)

The contractor needs your money to complete the project. But I agree that a substantial component of the monetary award for completing a project should be based on the project's successful completion. Ask us Californians how we like still paying for a failed computing systems upgrade at the DMV sometime. Especially since it's been many years since, now.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 4 years ago | (#31844640)

fine, we'll try it your way...

Here's a 150 contracts to put a shuttle-load's worth of personnel and cargo into low Earth orbit and return them safely to Earth. $500K a pop, payable upon successful completion.

crickets chirping...

Re:Sounds cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31844698)

durr... meant $500 million dollars a pop, obviously...

Whaaa! I demand guaranteed success!!!! (4, Insightful)

rts008 (812749) | about 4 years ago | (#31842774)

If everyone had your attitude, we would still be living in caves in Africa.

Don't push the boundaries, and stay in your mom's basement for all I care.
But your display of your lack of adventure/exploration/curiosity paints you into a corner from my view.

*hyperbole warning*
Real men with balls are explorers, always pushing the boundaries.
Real men have the balls to attempt and fail, learning something, and trying again.
Real men don't give up until they see their vision through, or die.
*end hyperbole*

Humans are renowned for their curiosity, and the mental capacity to satisfy that inherit curiosity.

Therefore, by my straw-man reasoning, I have deduced that you are subhuman. ;-)

Your type contribute nothing to our world. You're just leeches; a detriment to our society/species/world.

Win or lose, you should applaud their effort[or turn in your geek/nerd card and STFU]. We all benefit, directly, or indirectly.

There is a reason Star Trek had such an affect on society/industry/science.

"To boldly go where no man has gone before.."

That appealed directly to our species sense of adventure/curiosity.

     

Re:Whaaa! I demand guaranteed success!!!! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31843366)

*hyperbole warning*
Real men with balls are explorers, always pushing the boundaries.
Real men have the balls to attempt and fail, learning something, and trying again.
Real men don't give up until they see their vision through, or die.
*end hyperbole*

I'll add a few more:
Real men leave the toilet seat up after use.
Real men never preheat the oven when cooking an instant pizza.
Real men like to hang their clothes on the hooks on the floor.

YES! I'm your MOM!
Now clean your room before you go off exploring or you will be grounded!
FOREVER.

Re:Whaaa! I demand guaranteed success!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31844740)

YES! I'm your MOM!

Damn it Mom, I told you to stop posting in Slashdot. Geez, you totally embarrass me in front of all the guys...

Re:Sounds cool (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | about 4 years ago | (#31844730)

You may be the dumbest person alive, you do realize that those companies that fail to win simply treat the prize like a bonus, and that the R&D and networking is the real payoff. Good companies with semi intelligent people running them can assess the tech risk of an endeavor and will choose to go forward based on that not some small change prize. A team of 10-15 people would easily eat up 0.5M on a project of that magnitude, it's foolish to think that the prize is the end goal, mostly it is an opportunity of people in the same fields to meet with prospective customers and get ideas to further their R&D.

Re:Sounds cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842610)

I'm surprised that with all the recent news of NASA being marginalized that they can still have competitions like this? Or have I just got the wrong impression of the state of NASA's future?

They get multiple groups working on something and only have to pay the prize to the best, so I'd say it's pretty efficient for them. Not so much for the teams that don't win though.

That's a thought: compare those teams that lose to the near future of our IT careers. Job postings are replacing safe fulltime positions with commision-like assignments where you get paid for small 3 to 6 month contract without any commitment. I've heard stories of contracts being finished a month early, and people being out of the job. This is the present.

Now, see another view, pretend that most level 1 helpdesk questions could be answered by us, but that we are all commissioned contractors... and lose it all if the asker doesn't rate us. I have started using the 5-year-old "Yahoo Answers!" service. It is very annoying to ask a simple-looking multiple choice factual question or a quick opinion survey repeatedly and receive 0 answers... which bodes ill for end-users/askers in the future. Techs providing answers have "supervisor figures" who are just end-users, rating your painstaking answers (lots of users suck at answering helpfully, because the system provides token points for just saying "yeah" and stuff.) More often than not, askers fail to rate your answer, abandoning their own question altogether --you have wasted your time and receive no "payment."

Our no-win teams in the NASA example, even when making a good effort for their potential peanuts, might be exploited a lot if this NASA model transitions into the internet model above. It will be scary if our employment AND rating is "outsourced" to the point where both us and our watchers are only paying attention to the most recent questions, watching for the simplest answers, and ignoring anything else that won't yield a quick point increase. Callcenters with phone and email queues actually suffer a bit of this when people have knowledge of how hard a specific assignment may be if someone picks up at a specific time. I just wish our fulltime jobs don't become web-style competitive / commission based to that extent.

Re:Sounds cool (3, Interesting)

Tangentc (1637287) | about 4 years ago | (#31841886)

I don't think they're really being that marginalized. The Constellation program (which I assuming is the source of most of the marginalization talk) wasn't making effective use of money and wasn't delivering much. But with no plans to replace it (at least that I've heard of) manned space travel definitely seems to be being put on the back burner.

Beyond that though, holding competitions like this is a great use of their budget. The rewards they give are relatively small compared to what it would take to develop the technology in house, and it gets companies that are flirting with the idea of developing space-related tech to produce when they might otherwise not, because the monetary reward lowers the financial risk of developing it.

Re:Sounds cool (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31841894)

I'm more surprised as to why this anonymous reader is advertising LaserMotive so much. It starts out talking about the competition and so-on, but in the end it ends up focusing exclusively on LaserMotive.

Unless, of course, LaserMotive is going to bring out a new product and they're trying to get some astroturfing in so in the future we'll be all "Oh hey, that's that innovative new company with the power and the beaming and the nasa winnings and so forth."

Or maybe I'm just a cynical bastard. Oh well!

Re:Sounds cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31841908)

After all, everyone on slashdot is in the market for a multi million dollar laser.

Oh wait..

Re:Sounds cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842318)

Unless, of course, LaserMotive is going to bring out a new product and they're trying to get some astroturfing in in the future we'll be all "Oh hey, that's that innovative new company with the power and the beaming and the nasa winnings and so forth."

Reading is a useful skill fyi.

Also yes, we would love multi million dollar lasers, provided they can be tied onto sharks so we get sharks with frickin lazer beams.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

Toonol (1057698) | about 4 years ago | (#31842322)

After all, everyone on slashdot is in the market for a multi million dollar laser.

In our heart of hearts, yes.

Re:Sounds cool (1)

silentcoder (1241496) | about 4 years ago | (#31842588)

>>After all, everyone on slashdot is in the market for a multi million dollar laser.

>In our heart of hearts, yes.

Especially if it's attached to the head of a frickin' shark...

Re:Sounds cool (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | about 4 years ago | (#31842052)

I'm surprised that with all the recent news of NASA being marginalized that they can still have competitions like this? Or have I just got the wrong impression of the state of NASA's future?

As QuantumG said, you should probably read better news sources. ;) NASA's budget is actually being increased under the FY2011 budget, which you can read here:

http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html [nasa.gov]

Although all of NASA is getting an overall boost, the Centennial Challenges prize competitions like the ones in the summary are getting a particularly large boost. I believe they only got $4 million in FY09 and $0 in FY10 (yay for Ares cost overruns eating everything else in the budget), but from FY2011-FY2015 Centennial Challenges is getting a whopping $10 million per year ($50 million total). You can do some pretty amazing things with that. From the NASA budget:

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/428439main_Space_technology.pdf [nasa.gov]

The Centennial Challenges program seeks innovative solutions to technical problems that can drive
progress in aerospace technology of value to NASA's missions in space operations, science,
exploration and aeronautics. Beginning in FY 2011, Centennial Challenge activities associated with
the Innovative Partnerships Program are transferred to the Space Technology Program. Centennial
Challenges encourage the participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups
and private companies of all sizes in aerospace research and development, and seek to find the
most innovative solutions to technical challenges through competition and cooperation. NASA's
original seven prize challenges have been successful in encouraging broad participation by
innovators across our nation and across generations. Many of these technical challenges also have
direct relevance to national and global needs such as energy and transportation.

Prize programs encourage diverse participation and multiple solution paths. A measure of diversity is seen in the geographic distribution of participants (from Hawaii to Maine) that reaches far beyond the locales of the NASA Centers and major aerospace industries. The participating teams have included
individual inventors, small startup companies, and university students and professors. An example of multiple solution paths was seen in the 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge. NASA can typically
afford one or two working prototypes in a development program but at this Challenge event, over
twenty different working prototypes were demonstrated for the NASA technologists. All of these
prototypes were developed at no cost to the government. For three years of competitions with
dozens of teams investing tens of thousands of hours, NASA spent only $750,000 in prize money.

The return on investment with prizes is exceptionally high as NASA expends no funds unless the
accomplishment is demonstrated. NASA provides only the prize money and the administration of the
competitions is done at no cost to NASA by non-profit allied organizations. For the Lunar Lander
Challenge, twelve private teams spent nearly 70,000 hours and the equivalent of $12 million trying to win $2 million in prize money. Prizes also focus public attention on NASA programs and generate
interest in science and engineering. Live webcasts of Centennial Challenge competitions attract
thousands of viewers across the nation and around the world. The 2009 Power Beaming completion
resulted in over 100 news articles and web features. Prizes also create new businesses and new
partners for NASA. The winner of the 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge started a new business to
manufacture pressure suit gloves. Armadillo Aerospace began a partnership with NASA related to
the reusable rocket engine that they developed for the Lunar Lander Challenge, and they also sell
the engine commercially.

In selecting topics for prize competitions, NASA consults widely within and outside of the Federal
Government. The $10 million per year FY 2011 request for Centennial Challenges will allow NASA
to pursue new and more ambitious prize competitions. Topics for future challenges that are under
consideration include revolutionary energy storage systems, solar and other renewable energy
technologies, laser communications, demonstrating near-Earth object survey and deflection
strategies, innovative approaches to improving the safety and efficiency of aviation systems including

Next Generation Aeronautics efforts, closed-loop life support and other resource recycling
techniques, and low-cost access to space. Annual funding for Centennial Challenges allows new
prizes to be announced, addressing additional technology challenges that can benefit from the
innovation of the Citizen inventor.

Beaming power down from space? (4, Funny)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about 4 years ago | (#31841738)

Simple enough - just have a satellite convert it into powerful microwaves which you then beam down to reflector dishes. It works great! But you have to be careful, as occasionally the satellite gets out of whack and cooks large portions of your town.

That, or Godzilla. Unless you've turned disasters off.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31841772)

We don't know who struck first, us or them. But we do know it was us that scorched the sky. At the time, they were dependent on solar power. It was believed they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31841906)

You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
You take the blue pill and your penis stays erect for hours and hours, if your heart can take it.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31841834)

Or pop lots of popcorn.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (2)

biryokumaru (822262) | about 4 years ago | (#31841932)

"Hi Kent. Have you been touching yourself?"

Re:Beaming power down from space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842044)

You sure butchered that line from Real Genius.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842474)

At least he got the Jefferson quote right.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (1)

smashin234 (555465) | about 4 years ago | (#31841846)

It was called "oops" in the original...

I mean really, what could go wrong when sending massive amounts of energy through the air?

Re:Beaming power down from space? (3, Insightful)

silentcoder (1241496) | about 4 years ago | (#31842596)

>I mean really, what could go wrong when sending massive amounts of energy through the air?

Well looking at an existing experiment doing just that... a random planet can have multiple elements starting to behave in highly abherent ways, self-replicate, become self-aware and call itself "life" ? You do realize that, that is exactly what the sun does every single day right ?

Re:Beaming power down from space? (3, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 4 years ago | (#31841890)

When I read the article, I mused that the damage done by a mere misfired power beam might be nothing compared to the damage that the space elevator the beam powers might do if it falls. One of the most interesting scenes for me in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Red Mars [amazon.com] was the vision of the descent of a Mars space elevator after it is severed from the asteroid it is tethered to: a white hot ribbon of carbon lacerating the entire circumference of the planet, even wrapping around twice for added damage if it is long enough.

It's a bit sobering to think that even if mankind solved the plague of nuclear weapons, there's new ways to rain down mass destruction from orbit.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (2, Insightful)

sexybomber (740588) | about 4 years ago | (#31841946)

If an Earth orbit elevator cable were to get cut, I think most of the ribbon would burn up completely as it fell, no? Especially on the second pass, it would be falling through the full thickness of the atmosphere. It might rain soot along the entire equator for a while, maybe the occasional chunk or two, but probably nothing more serious than that. In the thinner Martian atmosphere, though... less air resistance, longer cable... yeah, that'll fuck with ya. I remember that scene too. Great book.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (2, Interesting)

ubergeek09 (1412177) | about 4 years ago | (#31842066)

Most of the elevator would actually stay in orbit and only a small portion of it would actually fall down to earth. Maybe none of it because the part that won't remain in orbit may actually be strong enough to hold itself up under compression.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | about 4 years ago | (#31842466)

A space elevator is not a building. Current designs would be a ribbon 10cm wide and thinner than a piece of paper.

In how it works it'd be more like a rope hanging down from space essentially tied down at a geosynchronous orbit (by another large mass/force beyond geosynchronous orbit). You cut it near that point and the whole thing must fall down like any other untied rope. There is no section that can stand up under compression because it'd be pointless to do that.

If you cut it low down than the only section to fall down would be that below the cutting point. The rest would in fact float up if measures aren't taken to counter that.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (1)

rockNme2349 (1414329) | about 4 years ago | (#31842132)

IANAS, but the idea of a space elevator is that not only will the "cable" be held up by the centrifugal force of spinning around the earth, but Space elevators do not exist because we haven't discovered/invented a material which can withstand the tremendous force of spinning in a circle. If a space elevator were to fail, I think the worst scenario would be the elevator goes drifting out into space.

Even if the cable were to fall to the earth, the reason re-entry creates so much friction is that spacecraft are moving at tremendous orbital velocities. A space elevator would only have the angular velocity of the earth, so locally it would have no angular velocity. Unless it was sent whipping around the earth by some external force, it would simply fall down.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (2, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | about 4 years ago | (#31842268)

> A space elevator would only have the angular velocity of the earth, so locally it would have no angular velocity.
> Unless it was sent whipping around the earth by some external force, it would simply fall down.

No it wouldn't just fall down.

When a figure skater pulls his/her arms in, the figure skater spins faster. Why?

Because everything wants to keep moving at the same speed, and the stuff further from the center is moving faster than the stuff nearer.

So when the bits of the elevator are pulled in, they will want to continue moving too, and not just fall down.

The closer those bits are to the ground, the smaller the speed differences are, and the thicker the atmosphere is, etc, so what happens depends on where the breaks are.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31843262)

Can anyone explain to me how the space elevator is supposed to be built? Even if you completely ignore the lack of a strong enough material, we can't build something that tall from the ground up. We can't even get past a couple hundred stories, let alone x number of miles above the earth. Are they just gonna launch a massive spool of "cable" into orbit and unroll it? Cause until the earth end gets attached to the earth, it seems to me that any gust of wind or slight deflection in the cable will cause it to swing like the largest pendulum ever, possibly cutting a miles long swath of destruction in the process. Plus if the orbital station is only held in place by the tension of the cable holding it to earth, and the cable only remains taut by the inertia of the orbital station orbiting slightly faster than escape velocity, which one do you build first? Kind of a chicken or the egg problem IMHO.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (1)

inigopete (780297) | about 4 years ago | (#31843756)

So when the bits of the elevator are pulled in, they will want to continue moving too,

However, to follow your skater/arms analogy, the bits of the elevator will be pulled in straight towards the axis of the earth (in the only remaining direction a force will be still acting on them), and the earth will spin faster. Albeit not significantly faster, but I see no reason why the forces acting on the ribbon would suddenly change direction.

Although maybe I sound like one of those people who think a plane would take off from a conveyor belt... ;)

Re:Beaming power down from space? (2, Interesting)

Rakishi (759894) | about 4 years ago | (#31842424)

Earth has an atmosphere much ticker than Mars. A space elevator falling would create a marvelous strip of fire across the sky but not much would be left of it to hit the ground.

Also, a space elevator would probably have the density and thickness of cardboard. A lot stronger to tear apart mind you but the parts not high enough to burn up would not fall straight down like a rock. So they'd gently float down onto the uninhabited ocean that surrounds the space elevator. Same for any other pieces that survive reentry.

So in the end it'd do no real damage from actually falling down. Some of the crawlers attached to it might leave unpleasant carters but probably not much damage either.

Re:Beaming power down from space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842582)

It's a bit sobering to think that even if mankind solved the plague of nuclear weapons, there's new ways to rain down mass destruction from orbit.

You mean ... there is more then one way to be sure?

Re:Beaming power down from space? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 4 years ago | (#31842048)

If you had two cables, insulated like spacey twinlead, then you could use dc to say vhf for power.

If you had one insulated cable, then with two exponential feedhorns, you would have a "G-Line" that would get rf up the cable to the elevator.

--

"Snotty beamed me twice last night." Spaceballs

Re:Beaming power down from space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842144)

If you don't like the idea of being fried by space lasers, move far away from Fresno, CA....PG&E agreed to purchase 200 MW of space-sourced power starting in 2016.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30198977/

(To be fair, It's kinda hot there already)

From the actual advert^h^h^h article... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 4 years ago | (#31841934)

that *might* be more practical ... the technology *could* be useful ... We *think* we can produce revenue while we get experience

Perhaps "have made" and "commercially viable" don't mean what I think they do.

Solar Power? (0, Troll)

davegravy (1019182) | about 4 years ago | (#31841948)

The ultimate goal is to beam large amounts of solar power to Earth

Last I checked, within their life span solar cells on earth don't pay for themself, or barely pay for themself. Presumably the advantage to harnessing solar power in space is the increased intensity of light without the interference of the earth's atmosphere. But solar panels aside, building and launching satellites is expensive, and this laser transfer of energy has unavoidable energy losses. One has to wonder if this could work out to be economically viable without some other serious technological breakthroughs.

Re:Solar Power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842084)

Second part of the title implies why this could be useful in the future: space elevators mean cheap satellites.

Please at least attempt to be serious (3, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#31842124)

It's not 1963 anymore.
We've got these things called integrated circuits and microprocessors now that meant we're using high purity silicon in bulk and the price has fallen to the point that solar cells are in cheap novelty garden lights.
I suggest "checking" again.
I don't really understand where the "lifespan" thing comes from since there's still panels from the 1970s running. Please elaborate and tell me what modes of failure make you think they have a short lifespan?

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (0, Troll)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#31842626)

Energy costs, not dollar costs. You think photovoltaic pays for itself? Show me the energy costs, including extraction, installation, maintenance, oh, and keeping the people who do all those things alive so that they can keep doing them indefinitely.

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842662)

Energy costs, not dollar costs. You think photovoltaic pays for itself? Show me the energy costs, including extraction, installation, maintenance, oh, and keeping the people who do all those things alive so that they can keep doing them indefinitely.

Sure, as soon as you show us the same calculation for oil and coal.

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (2, Insightful)

Fex303 (557896) | about 4 years ago | (#31842678)

Show me the energy costs, including extraction, installation, maintenance, oh, and keeping the people who do all those things alive so that they can keep doing them indefinitely.

Because with a coal mine you've got none of those costs, right?

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#31842952)

Be quiet and don't mention coal or you'll wake up the nuke trolls that answer every solar article with a comparison between nukes and coal :)

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 4 years ago | (#31843666)

Well yeah nuclear fission is great. It is the only viable alternative to coal we have. Hydropower comes close but the amount of places you can build it is quite limited, mostly already exploited, and they use a lot of land area.

As for crystalline solar photovoltaic cells you would be surprised. I know people like to say silicon wafers are made from sand, but the fact is it is not that simple... First you need to separate the silica in the sand (it's the glassy quartz like bits). This is probably near the order of magnitude in expense of mining alone. Then you need to melt the silica at 1650(±75) C and grow a crystal by putting a seed crystal in the melt. You pull the seed out and the crystal has formed around it. This is a highly energy intensive process.

Then you etch the patterns by photolithography on the silicon wafer. Then you wash the whole thing with acid. Rinse and repeat. There was a time this acid, or parts of it, was dumped on whatever river was near the plant. This is why chip making plants usually are near a river or employ judicious water recycling. Plus manufacturing is a batch process.

For coal you need to do none of that crap. You directly burn the thing you extracted. For nuclear, you need to do separation which usually involves vaporizing the uranium, but since the energy density in the material is much higher to begin with, you need to put way less energy in than the one you get out.

As for transportation costs it is way cheaper to transport uranium than coal to the power plant because it is so compact. Coal is usually transported by rail or barge, while you can use a truck to transport the nuclear material. As for solar supposedly you do not need to transport any fuel at all since the Sun shines nearly everywhere. Except it doesn't do it anytime.

This is why people are working so much on being able to print some kind of crystal powder on a piece of foil using an inkjet instead of doing crystalline cells using a continuous roll to roll process. Or using amorphous materials instead of crystalline.

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#31844676)

Then you need to melt the silica at 1650(±75) C and grow a crystal by putting a seed crystal in the melt. You pull the seed out and the crystal has formed around it.

It's more like what you might have seen with a plastic model aeroplane kit with the bits between the parts. Crystallisation is actually initiated on something that solidifies into a rod leading into the main casting. It's done that way to ensure both that it's a single crystal and that the crystal is orientated in exactly the direction you want, so the rod is bent a bit to prevent crystals of undesirable orientation making it into the main casting. It grows in from side or end into the main casting, and then it all ends up as one big crystal pointed exactly the right way for the best electronic properties.
Then after that there's zone refining which is quite energy intensive.
However if you do it on the sort of large scale that it is being done today the actual energy expenditure per kilogram isn't very much. That's why idiots today talk about vast costs and vast energy usage, because they don't consider that a few thousand microprocessors came out of the same casting that also gives you a large area of solar cells and they like to pretend all that energy went into making enough for one small panel. If you find that hard to imagine, work out the rough mass of an Intel i7 then work out how many of those add up to twenty tonnes or so.
With polycrystalline cells there is a lot less messing about during the solidification process although there is less of an economy of scale.

Re:Please at least attempt to be serious (0, Troll)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#31843150)

Do you know what a rhetorical question is?

We know - from our continuing existence - that coal provides more energy than it uses to obtain it. Does photovoltaic? I'm concerned that it doesn't, and the problem is that it'll take us another 30 years or so to find out that we've committed to a Sisyphian task.

Failure at being serious (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#31842944)

Energy costs, not dollar costs

The main dollar cost was melting the silicon and keeping it molten during purification. It turns out that it's vastly more efficient to do that in bulk, so you reduce both energy and dollar costs because they are very closely correlated.
Nice to see all those extra little bits added on that don't get added on when other forms of energy are considered - keeping people alive on that list as well? Care to add in airfares for holidays, energy cost to fabricate the planes and to make the inflight movie as well or is there enough irrelevant bullshit added in already?
As I said before, it's not 1963 and a side effect of the electronics revolution was to make this stuff a lot easier to make in every way.

Re:Failure at being serious (0, Troll)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#31843164)

Keeping people alive is "irrelevant bullshit"? See, that response is exactly why I am concerned that photovoltaic is a cult rather than a solution.

Curious that you think the "irrelevant bullshit" isn't a consideration for other forms of energy generation. Of course it is. Only a brainwashed retard would suggest otherwise. Our continued existence proves that fossil fuels provide more energy than they take to obtain, plus enough extra for super-"irrelevant bullshit", like the devices we use to have this enthralling debate.

So, does photovoltaic provide net energy? Show your working.

Re:Solar Power? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31842146)

Yes, serious technological breakthroughs are required for solar power sats to work. Increasing the efficiency of solar collectors, reducing their mass, and reducing launch costs are all required. But that's the normal case for anything space-based.

Re:Solar Power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842168)

Last I checked, within their life span solar cells on earth don't pay for themself, or barely pay for themself.

Well, aliens say the darndest things. I think they're planning on overthrowing the human race, so it's better not to check with them on these subjects.

Re:Solar Power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842638)

One has to wonder if this could work out to be economically viable without some other serious technological breakthroughs.

Well, there is space for improvement. Breakthrough is already made. How about, instead of using separate laser and PV cells and adding their respective inefficiencies, applying another, single QM machine for the purpose ... orbital sunlight-pumped laser with concentrating mirror to collect needed sunlight?

Re:Solar Power? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 4 years ago | (#31844240)

Last I checked, within their life span solar cells on earth don't pay for themself, or barely pay for themself.

Solar panels could repay the cost of their production within 7 years in the 1970s. I'll provide a citation just as soon as you do (I can't find it right now. I thought I had it saved in my scrapbook, but maybe that was an old one.)

Ultimate goal? (5, Funny)

FiloEleven (602040) | about 4 years ago | (#31841958)

The ultimate goal is to beam large amounts of solar power to Earth

Isn't that handled by...y'know...the sun?

Re:Ultimate goal? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 4 years ago | (#31842230)

Isn't that handled by...y'know...the sun?

Yes. That goal was fulfilled a few billion years ago and isn't talked about anymore.

Re:Ultimate goal? (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | about 4 years ago | (#31843232)

The ultimate goal is to beam large amounts of solar power to Earth

Isn't that handled by...y'know...the sun?

Well, yes. But the sun is kind of indiscriminate about it and seems to have this tendency to, you know, "spread the power".

Building satellites that concentrate and beam the power will ensure that only the right people get lots of power and the rest of us are kept in the dark.

They have it wrong (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 years ago | (#31842032)

Put up a sat that allows a beam from earth, to the sat, and then back to earth. The reason is that the DOD will buy LOADS of this right now. In addition, disaster areas can make use of this. Since it is likely that a large receiver for the space based power is needed, then one approach is to place it on a plane (think AWAC), and then have multiple smaller beams from underneath. Obviously, something like that in a war zone will need to be WAY up there (60K feet), but a 20K feet over a disaster area would be real useful. The difference with this approach is that it requires MINIMAL amounts of putting cargo into space. That means that it is fast and easy to get things started.

Kills mosquitos.... hmmmmm (1)

a-zA-Z0-9$_.+!*'(),x (1468865) | about 4 years ago | (#31842080)

Just think what a hack it would be to log in and redirect those microwave beams from a few thousand square km of solar cells in space towards people you want cooked... Well Done!

I don't understand this for space elevators (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#31842088)

Imagine that a space elevator is possible and constructed. With the proposed material you've then got a crawler climbing up one of the best conductors known. Why mess about with the extra mass required to receive radiation beamed from the ground in that situation at all?
Even the huge potential difference as such a long conductor goes through different portions of the atmosphere is probably going to give you more power than you can get there unless you have an enormous and heavy parabolic dish.

Re:I don't understand this for space elevators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842186)

A cable of the desired tensile strength and whatever number of properties may not be electrically conductive enough - plus you don't get the military side project. Also, when you're running current through a resistive material, you get heat, and heat can cause the cable to degrade.

When it comes to the whole 'beaming radiation thing' these unfortunate curves [vertmarkets.com] kind of demonstrate the attenuation that'll occur. Notice how the lower frequency RF stuff gets the least attenuation, which would be nice if it wasn't for the fact that any low frequency source is going to diverge considerably. Sure, phase arrayed emitters that are ridiculous in size can help reduce the divergence, it also increases the beam spot size. That Near-IR region looks kind of hopeful - but is not practical either in rain. I've heard the reply before of "oh - well if starts raining and begins to attenuate significantly, we can just increase the power." - sounds good in theory, unfortunately multiphoton absorption can occur, you get things like ionization, and when you get ionization you get electrons flying and hitting other atoms, causing more glowing particles ... usually phase changes absorb energy like crazy. Photodiodes still kind of suck at converting light to electricity.

Re:I don't understand this for space elevators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31844360)

The problem with using a conducting tether is distance - these things need to be ~100,000 km long.
- You need to use superconductors to deliver useful amounts of power over those distances. This makes manufacturing much more expensive and complex.
- It also needs to be fault tolerant over that distance, you cant have any single points of failure.
- Maintenance/corrosion of the conductor
All these problems go away for a beamed approach. Clearly beaming has problems of its own. No-one has the answers yet, that's what research is about.

Dishes dont have to be heavy. Dont think radio telescope, think umbrella, or parabolic indentation on the base of the cargo container, lined with foil.

A noble effort, but... (5, Funny)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 4 years ago | (#31842252)

"Tom Nugent...previously worked on the 'photonic fence' mosquito-zapping project at Intellectual Ventures..."

I understand the photonic fence project hit a wall during tests held just North of Winnipeg. Three mosquitoes (described by locals as "undersized" and "early season weaklings") came out of the bush, trashed the equipment and kicked the living shit out of two researchers. A German Shepherd-Pit Bull cross brought in to keep bears out of the scientists' camp was dragged off by the insects and never seen again.

Heard, you sure you weren't watching SyFy? (1)

Shivetya (243324) | about 4 years ago | (#31843280)

that sounds right up their alley, complete with rubber mosquitoes.

Top it off with about forty seven minutes of commercials per hour and...

Re:Heard, you sure you weren't watching SyFy? (1)

FrozenGeek (1219968) | about 4 years ago | (#31843452)

No, seriously, that sounds like the mosquitos we get here in Winnipeg. It's why we'll never be invaded - no one in their right mind would want to live here. 8^).

Re:A noble effort, but... (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | about 4 years ago | (#31843464)

Was I the only one who read that as Ted Nugent?

In any case, I worked in the mosquito control field for years, and his claims for the fence were not only bogus, they were *typically* bogus: " The system is 'so precise that it can specify the species, and even the gender, of the mosquito being targeted.'"

Right. That's one of the standard claims of the mosquito control crackpot. People have been making this claim for decades, but there's only one known way to identify a mosquito species: you put the specimen under a microscope and have somebody trained in mosquito taxonomy study it. This is done *routinely* by mosquito control districts who set up trap networks to assess human exposure. A system that could identify mosquito species electronically in real time would be worth tens of millions of dollars per year in the US alone.

If he could prove that one capability alone, I'd gladly mortgage my house for a stake in a business to produce *just the identification piece* -- much less the mosquito killing laser. But it's obviously the kind of claim a crackpot would make. I'm not saying that it is physically impossible to do what he claims, but it is so far beyond the capability of current technology that I'd have to conclude this guy is a crackpot.

Touch Screen LCD Monitor (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31842518)

It is a question we frequently asked. It's a valid question since laptop batteries are usually expensive to replace.

First of all, how long should your battery last? 2-4 years is generally acceptable depending on how frequently you use and charge the battery. If you travel a lot and use and charge your battery frequently then you might only get a couple of years at the most out of your laptop battery.
Touch Screen LCD Monitor [global-e-world.com]
7" Touch Screen LCD Monitor [global-e-world.com]

The Hp pavilion dv2000 laptop battery are usually made with Li-Ion laptop batteries and the very nature of Li-Ion batteries is that they have about 500-600 charges and last at most about 4-5 years (shelf life). They also have a self-dischar

Microwave oops (1)

dugeen (1224138) | about 4 years ago | (#31842882)

The real problem is not beaming the power, but making sure nothing valuable gets in between sender and receiver. You wouldn't want an airliner to fly through the beam I expect.

Re:Microwave oops (1)

john.r.strohm (586791) | about 4 years ago | (#31843692)

If the powersat is in geosynchronous orbit (UNLIKELY!), then the problem simplifies to "make sure the airliner doesn't fly over a particular section of ground". We do this all the time. It is called "restricted airspace". There's a chunk over Camp David, there's a chunk over Groom Lake (Area 51).

If the powersat is in low Earth orbit (far more likely), then the problem simplifies to "make sure the airliner doesn't fly through a moving region of airspace". We do this all the time, too. It is called "maintaining safe separation".

Every powersat concept I have ever seen included the design assumption that the receiving antenna array would be large enough to allow LOW beam density *AND* a certain amount of beam wander, so that *IF* an airplane flew through the beam, it would not do any harm to the airplane or anyone in it. This actually simplifies the beamforming and pointing problem quite a bit.

And it is worth mentioning in passing that Boeing and NASA tested beaming power by microwave, between two mountains several miles apart, at Goldstone in the 1960s.

Late ? (2, Interesting)

vikingpower (768921) | about 4 years ago | (#31843060)

Although I have at least an idea of the engineering difficulties, I still wonder why this technology is not in a more advanced state, as power beaming has the potential to solve so many problems ?

Patent alert ! (2, Informative)

vikingpower (768921) | about 4 years ago | (#31843078)

Upon reading the write-up once more, suddenly all my warning LEDs turn red: "Intellectual Ventures" ?? That is a patent-monger! If there is any link between this project and Intellectual Ventures, it is doomed to stay in a box. Which would really, really be too bad.
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