Image: Solar power satellite
Mafic Studios
An artist's illustration by Mafic Studios, Inc. of a solar power satellite in Earth orbit.
By
updated 9/12/2008 4:48:53 PM ET 2008-09-12T20:48:53

A former NASA scientist has used radio waves to transmit solar power a distance of 92 miles (148 km) between two Hawaiian islands, an achievement that he says proves the technology exists to beam solar power from satellites back to Earth.

John C. Mankins demonstrated the solar power transmission for the Discovery Channel, which paid for the four month experiment and will broadcast the results Friday at 9 p.m. EDT. His vision is to transmit solar power collected by orbiting satellites as large as 1,102 pounds (500 kg) to lake-sized receiver stations on Earth.

Mankins, who worked at NASA for 25 years and managed the agency's space-based solar program before it was disbanded, transmitted 20 watts of power between the two islands in May. The receivers, however, were so small that less than one one-thousandth of a percent of the power was received, Mankins said.

The experiment cost about $1 million, and Mankins said larger arrays could be constructed with more money.

Each of the nine solar panels used was built to transmit about 20 watts of power, but the transmission was scaled back to two watts per panel in order to obtain U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval for the test.

Despite the miniscule reception on the receiving end, Mankins said the ground-based test proved it is possible to transmit solar power through the atmosphere.

"The test was in no way fully successful," he said. "I think it showed it is possible to transmit solar power quickly and affordably."

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