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John Mankins has spent his professional life working on novel ideas that could transform the way humans use technology in space, solar power among them. But Mankins' interplanetary musings went beyond the way solar is already used to power satellites and the International Space Station. During a 25-year career at NASA and CalTech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he devised multiple concepts to extend the use of solar in space, among them a solar-powered interplanetary transport vehicle and a space-based power system.

約翰· 曼金斯用他的職業生涯致力于改變人類在太空中使用科技的方式,太陽能就是其中之一。 但曼金斯的行星際思考已經超越了太陽為衛星和國際空間站提供動力的方式。 在美國國家航空航天局和加州理工學院噴氣推進實驗室的25年職業生涯中,他設計了多個概念來拓展太陽能在太空中的應用,其中包括一個太陽能星際運輸工具和一個太空動力系統。

It's that second idea, in particular, that had Mankins' attention while holding top research positions at NASA during the 1990s and 2000s, Mankins — who now runs his own private aerospace firm, Artemis Innovation Management Solutions — had the task of figuring out whether there was a way to deliver electricity to the planet by beaming it from space. It's an idea that could fundamentally reshape the idea of the utility business —

特別是第二個想法,在20世紀90年代和21世紀頭十年,當曼金斯擔任美國宇航局最高研究職位時,引起了他的注意,曼金斯現在經營著自己的私營航空航天公司Artemis創新管理解決方案,他的任務是搞清楚是否有辦法通過從太空發送電力到地球。 這個想法可能會從根本上重塑公用事業行業的理念。



As the two geopolitical foes increasingly turn their attention to a technological and military race beyond the earth's atmosphere, space-based solar power projects are an overlooked, often criticized idea. But with China recently announcing that within the next decade it expects to finish the high voltage power transmission and wireless energy tests that would be needed for a space-based solar power system, the concept is likely to get renewed attention.

隨著這兩個地緣政治上的敵人越來越多地將注意力轉向地球大氣層之外的技術和軍事競賽,太空太陽能發電項目成了一個被忽視的、經常受到批評的想法。 但隨著中國最近宣布將在未來十年內完成高壓動力傳輸和無線能源測試,這個概念很可能會得到新的關注,而這些測試將是太空太陽能發電系統所需要的。



A space-based solar power station would capture the sun's energy that never makes it to the planet and use laser beams to send the energy back to Earth to meet energy demand needs. China said in a recent announcement about the project that a big advantage of space-based solar power is its ability to offer energy supply on a constant basis and with greater intensity than terrestrial solar farms.

太空太陽能發電空間站將捕獲永遠不會到達地球的太陽能,并使用激光束將能量發送回地球以滿足能源需求。 中國在最近一次關于該項目的聲明中表示,太陽能發電衛星的一大優勢在于它能夠提供比地面太陽能農場更穩定、更高強度的能源供應。

One of the issues with renewable-energy projects like solar and wind power plants are their intermittency — that refers to the fact that the sun isn't shining and the wind is not blowing 24-hours a day, limiting the periods of time during which these projects can be a source of power generation.

太陽能和風能等可再生能源項目的問題之一是它們的間歇性——這是指太陽沒有光照,風也不是一天24小時都在吹,從而限制了這些項目作為發電來源的時間。



ark Hopkins, National Space Society A slide from a presentation Chinese scientists made in South Korea showing an early design idea for a solar power project in space that could beam energy back to the Earth.

中國科學家在韓國馬克· 霍普金斯,國家太空協會所做的一個幻燈片展示了一個太空太陽能項目的早期設計理念,這個項目可以將能量傳回地球

Space-based solar would not only offer a solution to intermittency, but also delivery. Today, utility power generation is regional, if not local, but electricity generated in space and near the equator could be beamed almost anywhere across the globe, except for the poles. "You could beam electricity from Canada to the Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America from a satellite at equator," Mankins said. Roughly one billion people live in the Americas.

天基太陽能不僅可以解決間歇性問題,而且還可以實現傳輸。 如今,公用事業發電如果不是地方性的,也是區域性的,但是在太空和赤道附近產生的電能幾乎可以在全球任何地方發電,除了兩極。 曼金斯說:"你可以通過赤道上的衛星將電能從加拿大發射到南美洲南端的火地群島。"。 大約有十億人生活在美洲。

Hopkins said the current Chinese view is, "We want to be major dominant power in space solar power by 2050. This has the potential to really turn the geopolitics in our favor if we are a leader, so let's look at it seriously." Meanwhile, the U.S. says, "Are you kidding? Let's worry about something else."

霍普金斯說,目前中國的觀點是,"我們希望到2050年成為太空太陽能的主要主導力量。 如果我們是一個領導者,這有可能真正扭轉地緣政治局勢,使之對我們有利,所以讓我們認真地看待這個問題。" 與此同時,美國說,"你在開玩笑嗎? 我們還是擔心點別的吧。"



Historically, the cost of rocket launches and the weight that would be required for a project of this scale, made the idea of space-based solar unfeasible. There are scientists who still hold that view today.

從歷史上看,火箭發射的成本,以及這種規模的項目所需的重量,使天基太陽能的想法不可行。 今天仍然有科學家持有這種觀點。

"The energy, mass and cost budgets involved show that this is a losing proposition, not just now but perhaps for centuries to come," said Olivier L de Weck, a professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The energy we need to put in to launch the mass required for the SBSP [spaced-based solar power] station is so enormous that we may never recoup it."

麻省理工學院航空、航天和工程系統教授奧利維爾· l · 德韋克說,"能源、質量和成本預算表明,這是一個失敗的主張,不僅是現在,而且可能是未來幾個世紀都是"。 "我們需要投入巨大的資金來發射SBSP (基空間太陽能發電站)所需的質量,我們可能永遠無法收回。"



Mankins said this view is becoming quickly outdated due to a dramatic lowering of rocket launch costs through efforts funded by billionaires including Tesla founder Elon Musk's SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin. Meanwhile, developments in robotics and modular-manufacturing — being able to produce many small modular pieces to make a whole rather than one huge piece of equipment — could lead to cost-effective ways to construct these projects in orbit without having to build a multi-billion-dollar factory in space. He referenced a major review conducted by the federal government in 1981 that when looked at in today's dollars would have cost up to $1 trillion to deliver the first kilowatt/hour of solar from space. "The whole program was killed in the U.S.," he said.

曼金斯說,這種觀點正在迅速過時,因為通過億萬富翁的努力,包括特斯拉創始人埃隆 · 馬斯克的 SpaceX 公司和亞馬遜創始人杰夫· 貝佐斯的藍色起源公司,火箭發射成本急劇下降。 與此同時,機器人技術和模塊化制造技術的發展——能夠生產許多小的模塊化零件來制造一個整體,而不是一個巨大的設備——可能會找到在軌道上建造這些項目成本效益高的方法,而不必在太空中建造一個價值數十億美元的工廠。 他引用了聯邦政府在1981年進行的一項重大評估,以今天的美元計算,從太空輸送第一千時的太陽能將花費高達1萬億美元。 "整個項目都在美國被扼殺了,"他說。

Now the studies conducted on feasibility are decades old and simply no longer relevant to the discussion, Mankins said. "Whenever a gray-haired senior scientist tells you something can be done, they are almost certainly right. When they tell you it can't be done, he or she may very well be wrong," he said, referencing an adage by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke from his famous "three laws."

曼金斯說,現在關于可行性的研究已經有幾十年的歷史,不再只是討論。 "無論何時,只要一位頭發花白的資深科學家告訴你可以做些什么,他們幾乎肯定是正確的。 當他們告訴你這是不可能的時候,他或她很可能是錯的,他說,引用了科幻小說作家亞瑟·查理斯·克拉克的一句格言,來自他著名的"三大定律"

"We have had a revolution in robotics, drones and warehouse robots that didn't exist. Previously, the whole thing had to be built as one huge system, an enormous thing like a aircraft carrier shipyard in space to fabricate one enormous object weighing 10,000 tonnes rather than 10 million small units each weighing a few pounds that can use mass production," he said. "We no longer need a stupendously huge factory in space and hundreds of astronauts to put it together. The whole world, other than the space program, has moved forward to mass-produced modular network devices. That's the way you would do it, and it was unthinkable 40 years ago, but suddenly it is physically, technically and economically doable."

"我們在機器人技術、無人駕駛飛機和倉庫機器人方面進行了一場革命,那時還不存在這些技術。 以前,整個系統必須建成一個巨大的系統,一個巨大的東西,就像航空母艦在太空中制造一個重達10000噸的巨大物體,而不是1000萬個可以用于大規模生產的重幾磅的小單元,"他說。 "我們不再需要一個巨大的太空工廠和數百名宇航員來組裝它。 除了太空計劃,整個世界都在向大規模生產模塊化網絡設備邁進。 這就是會做的事情,40年前這是不可想象的,但突然之間,它在物理、技術和經濟上都是可行的。"

American scientists are tinkering with the idea to this day. A group at the California Institute of Technology claims to have created a prototype that is able to capture and transmit solar energy from space, using light weight tiles, work sponsored by a $17.5 million research agreement with Northrop Grumman. Weight has always been a key issue to resolve because of the cost of rocket launches being based on weight of cargo. Thin film solar panels are lightweight, which reduces launch cost. Though as launch costs come down it may be less of a make-or-break issue. Thin film may also have a structural advantage in space — the lighter weight is no issue in the zero-gravity environment.

直到今天,美國科學家還在修補這個想法。 加利福尼亞理工學院的一個小組聲稱已經創造了一個原型,使用輕質瓷磚,它能夠從太空捕獲和傳輸太陽能,這項工作是由諾斯洛普·格魯門贊助的一項1750萬美元的研究協議。 重量一直是需要解決的關鍵問題,因為火箭發射的成本取決于貨物的重量。 薄膜太陽能電池板重量輕,降低了發射成本。 雖然隨著發射成本的下降,這可能不是一個成敗攸關的問題。 薄膜在空間上也可能具有結構上的優勢,在零重力環境下,較輕的重量不是問題。

Other nations are exploring the concept. In India and in Europe scientists are working on additional concepts for solar based power in space. Japan's JAXA, an aerospace exploration agency, has been researching how to overcome technological barriers, such as microwave wireless power transmission tech and robotic assembly tech.

其他國家正在探索這一概念。 在印度和歐洲,科學家們正在研究太陽能空間發電的其他概念。 日本宇宙航空研究開發機構 JAXA 一直在研究如何克服技術障礙,如微波無線動力傳輸技術和機器人組裝技術。

The most important U.S. effort underway today is arguably the one being conducted by the U.S. military, which received $178 million in its current fiscal year to explore space-based solar power.

今天美國正在進行的最重要的努力可以說是美國軍方正在進行的,美國軍方在本財政年度獲得1.78億美元,用于探索太空太陽能發電。



"If the plan is to capture solar energy in space, that means the total amount of solar energy going into earth goes up, that increases the earth's temperature," Hughes said. "Now of course that depends on how much energy is being brought in. It only becomes a problem when the area of the solar connectors in space becomes comparable to the size of earth."

休斯說:"如果計劃在太空中捕獲太陽能,這意味著進入地球的太陽能總量上升,從而增加了地球的溫度。"。 "當然,這取決于輸入了多少能量。 只有當太陽在太空中的連接面積與地球的面積相當時,才會成為一個問題。"

Mankins said there are significant risks for the planet that need to be considered, including an increase in temperature and unintended consequences for various forms of life. "There is a reason birds like to sit on utility wires." But it is no different that worries about UV rays, and the concerns are "not known showstoppers."

曼金斯說,我們需要考慮地球面臨的重大風險,包括氣溫上升和各種形式的意外后果。 "鳥兒喜歡坐在電線上是有原因的。" 但是人們對紫外線的擔憂并沒有什么不同,而且人們對紫外線的擔憂"還不是眾所周知的"。

He said the length of microwaves being contemplated for these projects do not pose a significant health risk. He also studied the global warming argument in detail and said it is a fact that beaming power from space to the earth will have an impact on surface temperatures. But when you look at how efficient the delivery of solar from space could be versus the addition of more coal-powered, natural gas-fired or diesel power generation, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions are still much lower.

他說,這些項目正在考慮的微波長度不構成重大健康風險。 他還詳細研究了有關全球變暖的爭論,并表示從太空向地球傳輸電力將會對地表溫度產生影響,這是一個事實。 但是,當你觀察從太空運送太陽能的效率與增加更多的煤炭、天然氣或柴油發電相比,由此產生的溫室氣體排放仍然低得多。

"One thing the Chinese are really good at is thinking long-term, unlike U.S. thinking, out 50 years about this stuff. They have no problem thinking like that."

"中國人真正擅長的一件事是,與美國人不同,他們考慮的是50年的長期問題。 他們這樣想沒有問題。"

Michael Byers, a professor in the department of political science at University British Columbia Vancouver says the biggest problem for this concept may be a matter of time. Space-based systems might well be possible several decades from now, but Earth-based systems are already catching up to fossil fuels in terms of cost and efficiency. "You can put solar panels just about anywhere. Rooftops are the most obvious location, and in some jurisdictions all new buildings must have solar arrays. Lots of small projects are better than a few big ones, since they provide greater resilience to equipment failures and weather events," Byers said.

加拿大不列顛哥倫比亞大學溫哥華分校政治學系教授邁克爾· 拜爾斯說,這一概念的最大問題可能是時間問題。 天基系統很可能在今后幾十年內成為可能,但地基系統在成本和效率方面已經趕上化石燃料。 "你可以在任何地方安裝太陽能電池板。 屋頂是最明顯的位置,在一些地區,所有的新建筑都必須有太陽能電池板。 許多小項目比一些大項目要好,因為它們對設備故障和天氣事件具有更強的適應能力,"拜爾斯說。



National Space Society director Hopkins said that kind of thinking — coupled with the U.S. government's inability to think long-term in its planning — may be the biggest risk of all. He said that current views in the U.S. on the topic tend to fall into one of two camps.

美國國家太空協會主任霍普金斯說,這種想法——再加上美國政府不能從長計議——可能是最大的風險。 他說,目前美國在這個問題上的觀點傾向于分為兩個陣營。

"People in the U.S. tend to look at it as, 'At least the Chinese are doing it, and if the Chinese are doing it, then we are likely to do it at some point because we don't want them to lead.' Others are saying, 'If they get this right and we don't, we are in big trouble.'" Hopkins added, "One thing the Chinese are really good at is thinking long-term, unlike U.S. thinking, out 50 years about this stuff. They have no problem thinking like that. When I talk to NASA about anything more than 10 years out, they sort of look up in the air and roll their eyes, and I'm not invited back."

"美國人往往認為,'至少中國人在做這件事,如果中國人在做,那么我們可能在某個時候做,因為我們不希望他們來領導。' 其他人則說,'如果他們做對了,而我們沒有,我們就有大麻煩了。"' 霍普金斯補充說:"中國人真正擅長的一件事是考慮長期問題考慮50年的問題,而不像美國人。 他們這樣想沒有問題。 當我和美國國家航空和宇宙航行局談論任何超過10年以后的事情時,他們會抬頭看著天空,翻白眼,我沒有被邀請回來。”