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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(JohnMankins)的职业生涯一直致力于创新的想法,这些创意可以改变人类在太空中使用技术的方式,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。在美国宇航局和25年的职业生涯中,他设计了多个概念来扩展太阳能在太空中的应用,其中包括太阳能行星际运输车和基于空间的动力系统。

It's that second idea, in particular, that had Mankins' attention while holding top research positions at NASA during the 1990s and 2000s, including overseeing the $800 million Exploration Systems Research and Technology group. 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 — and give control over it, on a global scale, to whichever world power gets there first.

第二个想法尤其引起了曼金斯的注意,他在上世纪90年代和2000年代担任美国宇航局(NASA)的高层研究职务,包括监督价值8亿美元的勘探系统研究和技术小组(ExpressionSystems Research And Technology Group)。曼金斯现在经营着自己的私人航空航天公司-Artemis创新管理解决方案公司-他的任务是研究是否有办法从太空向地球供电。这一想法可以从根本上重塑公用事业业务的理念,并在全球范围内,将控制权交给任何一个世界强国。

"If you can dramatically lower the cost of space solar, you can take over most of the energy market of the world, " said Mark Hopkins, a member of the National Space Society board of directors and former Rand Corp. executive.

国家空间协会董事会成员、兰德公司前执行官马克·霍普金斯说:“如果你能大幅降低太空太阳能的成本,你就可以接管世界上大部分的能源市场。”

Mankins got close to seeing the idea make it into reality, with support from the Bush White House and Congress in the 2000s, and positive reviews from the National Academy of Sciences and a national security unit within the Department of Defense. But the program never took flight, for a variety of reasons. So when the news recently broke that the idea — abandoned decades ago by NASA — was coming back to life with a big push from government, it was cause for excitement. But it isn't NASA finally backing the idea. It's the Chinese government.

在21世纪的布什白宫和国会的支持下,以及美国国家科学院(National Academy Of Sciences)和国防部(Department Of Defense)国家安全部门的积极评价下,曼金斯几乎看到了这个想法就要实现了。但由于种种原因,该项目从未成功。所以,当这个消息最近曝光的时候,这个想法——几十年前被美国宇航局抛弃了——在政府的大力推动下恢复了生机时,它引起了人们的兴奋。不过支持这个项目的不是美国宇航局,而是中国。

The space race heats up

太空竞赛升温



注:新闻稿插句——This is not posturing; this is a real plan from serious organizations with rever

这不是装腔作势;这是一个真正的计划,来自严肃的组织——在中国受到尊敬的科学家。他们有一个非常好的技术计划,到2030年就能完成。

"The dramatically stated interest on the part of the Chinese will do a lot to engender interest," Mankins said. "Around a decade ago the Chinese started working seriously on this, and about five years ago they started coming to international meetings. Before that, they were in the dark. Now they are coming out of the shadows and talking much more openly about this." He added, "There is absolutely progress from the Chinese at this point. This is not posturing; this is a real plan from serious organizations with revered scientists in China. They have a perfectly good technical plan, and they can do it by 2030," Mankins said, describing a small-scale solar power project producing megawatts of electricity, but not a commercial-scale project able to produce gigawatts needed to compete with utilities.

曼金斯说:“中国方面所宣称的利益将极大地激发了人们的兴趣。”“大约十年前,中国开始认真地开展这方面的工作,大约五年前,他们开始参加国际会议。在那之前,他们是神秘的,现在他们不再低调,他们正走出阴影,更公开地谈论这件事。“
他补充说:“中国在这一点上取得了绝对的进展。这不是故作姿态,这是一个真正的计划,来自中国受人尊敬的科学家的严肃组织。他们有一个非常好的技术计划,到2030年他们就能做到这一点,“曼金斯说,他描述的是一个生产兆瓦电力的小型太阳能项目,但没有一个能够产生与公用事业竞争所需的千兆瓦的商业项目。

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.

以太空为基础的太阳能发电站将捕捉太阳从未到达地球的能量,并利用激光将能量送回地球以满足能源需求。中国最近在一份关于该项目的声明中表示,太空太阳能的一个巨大优势是它能够持续提供比地面太阳能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.

可再生能源项目——比如太阳能和风力发电厂的问题之一是它们的间歇性,也就是指是没有太阳,或者每天24小时都没风的情况下,限制了这些项目作为发电来源的时间。

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.

太空太阳能不仅可以解决间歇性问题,而且还可以解决运输问题。今天,公用事业发电即使不是局部发电,也是区域性的,但在空间和赤道附近产生的电力几乎可以在全球任何地方发射,但两极除外。曼金斯说:“你可以通过赤道的卫星从加拿大向南美洲南端的火地岛发射电力。”大约10亿人生活在美洲。

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,中国目前的观点是:“我们希望到2050年成为太空太阳能的主要主导力量。如果我们是这一领域的领头人这就有可能真正使地缘政治学对我们有利,所以让我们认真考虑一下。”
而与此同时,美国却对我们说,“你在开玩笑吗?你们应该操心其他的事情。“

New life for a 'losing proposition'

为“失败的项目”注入新生。



(译注:Kilopower是由美国能源部协助研发的,它标志着美国40年来打造的第一个全新的核反应堆。它有可能改变太空探索,尤其是太阳系中永久性人类前哨基地的能源制造方式。)

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.
"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."

“从历史上看,火箭发射的成本,和如此规模的项目所需的重量,使得太空太阳能的想法变得不可行,并且至今仍有一些科学家持这种观点。”麻省理工学院航空、航天和工程系统教授奥利维尔·德韦克(Olivier L De Weck)说,“所涉及的能源、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不可能成功的。”“为了发射sbsp(空间太阳能发电站)所需的能量,我们需要投入的能量是巨大的,以至于我们可能永远无法收回它。”

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,这一观点正在迅速过时,因为亿万富翁的资助大幅降低了火箭发射成本,这些投资包括特斯拉创始人Elon Musk的SpaceX和亚马逊创始人Jeff Bezos的蓝色起源公司(Blue Origin)。
(译注:蓝色起源(Blue Origin):是亚马逊CEO杰夫·贝索斯(Jeff Bezos)旗下的一家商业太空公司,2000年成立,已经拥有了近 600 名员工。
SpaceX:太空探索技术公司,即美国太空探索技术公司(SpaceX),是一家由PayPal早期投资人埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)2002年6月建立的美国太空运输公司。它开发了可部分重复使用的猎鹰1号和猎鹰9号运载火箭。)

同时,机器人技术和模块化制造技术的发展——能够生产出许多小模块部件来制造一个整体,而不是一个巨大的设备——可能会实现在轨道上建造这些项目的经济有效的方法,而不必在太空中建造一个价值数十亿美元的工厂。

他提到了1981年联邦政府进行的一次重大审查,如果以今天的美元计算,从太空运送第一个千瓦/小时的太阳能将花费高达1万亿美元。他说:“整个计划都被美国扼杀了。”

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了几十年的历史,所以不会在进行无意义的讨论了。“每当一位白发苍苍的资深科学家告诉你是否可以做的时候,他们几乎是非常肯的。”当他们告诉你,这是不可能的,他或她很可能是错的,“他说,这引用了科幻作家阿瑟C克拉克著名的”三定律“的格言。
(译注:阿瑟·克拉克是英国及斯里兰卡著名科幻作家,科普作家,同时也是一位科学家,以及国际通讯卫星的奠基人。)

"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、无人机和仓库机器人方面发生了一场不存在的革命。他说:“在此之前,整个项目必须被建成一个庞大的工业体系,这是一个巨大的东西,就像在太空中制造一个航空母舰造船厂,用来制造一个重达1万吨的巨大物体,而不是分解成1000万个小单元,每个小单元重达几磅,可以大规模生产。”
“我们不再需要一个巨大的太空工厂和数以百计的宇航员把它组装在一起。除了太空计划之外,整个世界都在向大规模生产的模块化物联网设备迈进。——而这就是现在你们做这件事的方法,这在40年前是不可想象的,但突然之间,它在物理上、技术上和经济上都是可行的。”



(译注:日本宇宙航空研究开发机构(Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency),简称JAXA,是负责日本的航空、太空开发事业的独立行政法人。其工作包括研究、开发和发射人造卫星,小行星探测以及未来可能的登月工程。)

The US military has begun exploring the idea

美军已经开始探索这个想法

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.

美国今天正在进行的最重要的努力可以说是由美国军方进行的,美国军方在本财政年度获得了1.78亿美元的资金,用于探索太空太阳能发电。

For the military, space-based solar could solve big issues with delivering power to posts in remote locations, such as in Afghanistan, where getting fuel to a base means driving a truck loaded with flammable gasoline through hostile territory. Solar power beamed from space would also offer bases a new method of powering their operations, recharging the huge battery packs that soldiers carry today because they have so many electronic devices, and could lead to a ramp up in use more electric vehicles. "Anything the military does will push the technology, and CalTech is pushing hard too with the thin film cells, and that work is going well," Hopkins said.

对军方来说,太空太阳能可以解决向偏远地区(如阿富汗)的岗位供电的重大问题,在那里,向基地提供燃料意味着驾驶一辆装满易燃汽油的卡车穿越敌对地区。从太空发射的太阳能还将为他们的操作提供一种新的方式,为士兵们今天携带的巨大电池组充电,因为他们有太多的电子设备,而且还可能导致更多电动汽车的使用。霍普金斯说:“军方所做的一切都将推动这项技术,加州理工学院也在努力推动薄膜电池的发展,而且这项工作进展顺利。”

A Department of Defense spokesman said the DoD routinely conducts research to explore concepts such as space-based solar power, but it did not have details to provide at this time.

国防部发言人说,国防部经常进行研究关于探索太空太阳能等概念,但目前还不能提供细节。



"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:“如果计划是在太空捕捉太阳能量,那就意味着进入地球的太阳能总量增加了,这就增加了地球的温度。”“当然,这取决于注入了多少能量。只有当太空中的太阳能连接器的面积与地球的大小相媲美时,它才会成为一个问题。“

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,地球面临的重大风险需要考虑,包括气温上升和各种生物的意外后果。“鸟类喜欢坐在电线上是有原因的。”但对紫外线的担忧并没有什么不同,人们的担忧是“知道的人毕竟太少了”。

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,为这些项目设想的微波长度并不构成重大的健康风险。他还详细研究了全球变暖的论点,并说从太空向地球发射能量将对地表温度产生影响,这是一个事实。但如果你观察从太空输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,温室气体的排放量仍然要低得多。

文章插句: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.——Mark Hopkins——National Space Society board of directors

不像美国的那样,中国人真正擅长的一件事是谋划长远,中国人花了50年的时间在这个项目上。他们这样想是没有问题的。————马克·霍普金斯——国家空间学会董事会

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.

温哥华不列颠哥伦比亚省大学政治科学系教授迈克尔·拜尔斯(MichaelByers)表示,这个概念的最大问题可能是时间问题。几十年后,天基系统很可能成为可能,但就成本和效率而言,地基系统已经赶上了化石燃料。”“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,在一些管辖范围内,所有新建筑都必须有太阳能电池板。许多小项目比几个大项目要好,因为它们对设备故障和天气事件有更强大抵抗力。

Hopkins said price competition from Earth-based utility generation is a real issue, but not an insurmountable one. As prices fall for solar technology on the ground, they fall for solar that would be used in space as well. And space-based solar — because it can beam electricity anywhere in the world — can take advantage of the big price differential in the utility market.

霍普金斯说,来自地球公用事业发电的价格竞争是一个真正的问题,但并非无法克服的问题。随着地面太阳能技术的价格下降,它们也会导致太空中使用的太阳能价格下降。而天基太阳能——因为它可以在世界任何地方发射电力——可以利用公用事业市场的巨大价差。



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.

美国国家航天协会主任霍普金斯说,这种想法,再加上美国政府无法在其规划中考虑长期问题,可能是最大的风险。他说,美国目前对这一议题的看法往往属于两个阵营。

"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."

“在美国,人们倾向于认为,‘至少中国人在这么做,如果中国人在这么做,那么我们可应该也找个时间干,因为我们不希望他们成为领头羊。’”其他人则说,‘如果他们做得对,我们做不到,我们就有大麻烦了。’“霍普金斯补充道:“与美国不同的是,中国真正擅长的一件事是思虑长远,中国在这方面花了50年的时间进行长期思考。”所以他们这样想是就很理所当然了。但当我和美国宇航局谈论十多年后的事情时,他们好像在仰望天空,转动眼睛,而我再没受到他们的邀请。”