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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.

约翰· 曼金斯用他的职业生涯致力于改变人类在太空中使用科技的方式,太阳能就是其中之一。 但曼金斯的行星际思考已经超越了太阳为卫星和国际空间站提供动力的方式。 在美国国家航空航天局和加州理工学院喷气推进实验室的25年职业生涯中,他设计了多个概念来拓展太阳能在太空中的应用,其中包括一个太阳能星际运输工具和一个太空动力系统。

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 —

特别是第二个想法,在20世纪90年代和21世纪头十年,当曼金斯担任美国宇航局最高研究职位时,引起了他的注意,曼金斯现在经营着自己的私营航空航天公司Artemis创新管理解决方案,他的任务是搞清楚是否有办法通过从太空发送电力到地球。 这个想法可能会从根本上重塑公用事业行业的理念。



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.

随着这两个地缘政治上的敌人越来越多地将注意力转向地球大气层之外的技术和军事竞赛,太空太阳能发电项目成了一个被忽视的、经常受到批评的想法。 但随着中国最近宣布将在未来十年内完成高压动力传输和无线能源测试,这个概念很可能会得到新的关注,而这些测试将是太空太阳能发电系统所需要的。



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.

太空太阳能发电空间站将捕获永远不会到达地球的太阳能,并使用激光束将能量发送回地球以满足能源需求。 中国在最近一次关于该项目的声明中表示,太阳能发电卫星的一大优势在于它能够提供比地面太阳能农场更稳定、更高强度的能源供应。

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.

太阳能和风能等可再生能源项目的问题之一是它们的间歇性——这是指太阳没有光照,风也不是一天24小时都在吹,从而限制了这些项目作为发电来源的时间。



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.

中国科学家在韩国马克· 霍普金斯,国家太空协会所做的一个幻灯片展示了一个太空太阳能项目的早期设计理念,这个项目可以将能量传回地球

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.

天基太阳能不仅可以解决间歇性问题,而且还可以实现传输。 如今,公用事业发电如果不是地方性的,也是区域性的,但是在太空和赤道附近产生的电能几乎可以在全球任何地方发电,除了两极。 曼金斯说:"你可以通过赤道上的卫星将电能从加拿大发射到南美洲南端的火地群岛。"。 大约有十亿人生活在美洲。

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."

霍普金斯说,目前中国的观点是,"我们希望到2050年成为太空太阳能的主要主导力量。 如果我们是一个领导者,这有可能真正扭转地缘政治局势,使之对我们有利,所以让我们认真地看待这个问题。" 与此同时,美国说,"你在开玩笑吗? 我们还是担心点别的吧。"



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.

从历史上看,火箭发射的成本,以及这种规模的项目所需的重量,使天基太阳能的想法不可行。 今天仍然有科学家持有这种观点。

"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."

麻省理工学院航空、航天和工程系统教授奥利维尔· l · 德韦克说,"能源、质量和成本预算表明,这是一个失败的主张,不仅是现在,而且可能是未来几个世纪都是"。 "我们需要投入巨大的资金来发射SBSP (基空间太阳能发电站)所需的质量,我们可能永远无法收回。"



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.

曼金斯说,这种观点正在迅速过时,因为通过亿万富翁的努力,包括特斯拉创始人埃隆 · 马斯克的 SpaceX 公司和亚马逊创始人杰夫· 贝佐斯的蓝色起源公司,火箭发射成本急剧下降。 与此同时,机器人技术和模块化制造技术的发展——能够生产许多小的模块化零件来制造一个整体,而不是一个巨大的设备——可能会找到在轨道上建造这些项目成本效益高的方法,而不必在太空中建造一个价值数十亿美元的工厂。 他引用了联邦政府在1981年进行的一项重大评估,以今天的美元计算,从太空输送第一千时的太阳能将花费高达1万亿美元。 "整个项目都在美国被扼杀了,"他说。

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."

曼金斯说,现在关于可行性的研究已经有几十年的历史,不再只是讨论。 "无论何时,只要一位头发花白的资深科学家告诉你可以做些什么,他们几乎肯定是正确的。 当他们告诉你这是不可能的时候,他或她很可能是错的,他说,引用了科幻小说作家亚瑟·查理斯·克拉克的一句格言,来自他著名的"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."

"我们在机器人技术、无人驾驶飞机和仓库机器人方面进行了一场革命,那时还不存在这些技术。 以前,整个系统必须建成一个巨大的系统,一个巨大的东西,就像航空母舰在太空中制造一个重达10000吨的巨大物体,而不是1000万个可以用于大规模生产的重几磅的小单元,"他说。 "我们不再需要一个巨大的太空工厂和数百名宇航员来组装它。 除了太空计划,整个世界都在向大规模生产模块化网络设备迈进。 这就是会做的事情,40年前这是不可想象的,但突然之间,它在物理、技术和经济上都是可行的。"

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,美国科学家还在修补这个想法。 加利福尼亚理工学院的一个小组声称已经创造了一个原型,使用轻质瓷砖,它能够从太空捕获和传输太阳能,这项工作是由诺斯洛普·格鲁门赞助的一项1750万美元的研究协议。 重量一直是需要解决的关键问题,因为火箭发射的成本取决于货物的重量。 薄膜太阳能电池板重量轻,降低了发射成本。 虽然随着发射成本的下降,这可能不是一个成败攸关的问题。 薄膜在空间上也可能具有结构上的优势,在零重力环境下,较轻的重量不是问题。

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.

其他国家正在探索这一概念。 在印度和欧洲,科学家们正在研究太阳能空间发电的其他概念。 日本宇宙航空研究开发机构 JAXA 一直在研究如何克服技术障碍,如微波无线动力传输技术和机器人组装技术。

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.

今天美国正在进行的最重要的努力可以说是美国军方正在进行的,美国军方在本财政年度获得1.78亿美元,用于探索太空太阳能发电。



"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."

休斯说:"如果计划在太空中捕获太阳能,这意味着进入地球的太阳能总量上升,从而增加了地球的温度。"。 "当然,这取决于输入了多少能量。 只有当太阳在太空中的连接面积与地球的面积相当时,才会成为一个问题。"

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."

曼金斯说,我们需要考虑地球面临的重大风险,包括气温上升和各种形式的意外后果。 "鸟儿喜欢坐在电线上是有原因的。" 但是人们对紫外线的担忧并没有什么不同,而且人们对紫外线的担忧"还不是众所周知的"。

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.

他说,这些项目正在考虑的微波长度不构成重大健康风险。 他还详细研究了有关全球变暖的争论,并表示从太空向地球传输电力将会对地表温度产生影响,这是一个事实。 但是,当你观察从太空运送太阳能的效率与增加更多的煤炭、天然气或柴油发电相比,由此产生的温室气体排放仍然低得多。

"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."

"中国人真正擅长的一件事是,与美国人不同,他们考虑的是50年的长期问题。 他们这样想没有问题。"

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.

加拿大不列颠哥伦比亚大学温哥华分校政治学系教授迈克尔· 拜尔斯说,这一概念的最大问题可能是时间问题。 天基系统很可能在今后几十年内成为可能,但地基系统在成本和效率方面已经赶上化石燃料。 "你可以在任何地方安装太阳能电池板。 屋顶是最明显的位置,在一些地区,所有的新建筑都必须有太阳能电池板。 许多小项目比一些大项目要好,因为它们对设备故障和天气事件具有更强的适应能力,"拜尔斯说。



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.

美国国家太空协会主任霍普金斯说,这种想法——再加上美国政府不能从长计议——可能是最大的风险。 他说,目前美国在这个问题上的观点倾向于分为两个阵营。

"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."

"美国人往往认为,'至少中国人在做这件事,如果中国人在做,那么我们可能在某个时候做,因为我们不希望他们来领导。' 其他人则说,'如果他们做对了,而我们没有,我们就有大麻烦了。"' 霍普金斯补充说:"中国人真正擅长的一件事是考虑长期问题考虑50年的问题,而不像美国人。 他们这样想没有问题。 当我和美国国家航空和宇宙航行局谈论任何超过10年以后的事情时,他们会抬头看着天空,翻白眼,我没有被邀请回来。”