Entrepreneur and inventor Ben Nowack is now the CEO of Tons of Mirrors, a company that plans to use reflective surfaces mounted on satellites to redirect sunlight to solar panels on Earth, reports Vice.
Nowack himself is not the inventor of the original concept, it was proposed by the Senate Subcommittee on Energy Production and Supply back in 1977. The idea of using space mirrors to change lighting conditions was implemented by the Soviet project “Znamya” in 1988. Then an almost 20-meter mirror was deployed in orbit, which sent a five-kilometer stray beam of light that passed across Europe. Later, in 2017, Norwegian accountant Oscar Kittilsen installed large rotating mirrors on a mountain above the city of Rjukan. This was done to combat seasonal depression.
However, Nowack approaches the problem from the other side, with an updated technology that he says will make sunlight at least 90.7 times cheaper than previous proposals.
The basis of the inventor’s idea was the design of the Webb Telescope, but it would not be possible to simply remake it for reverse operation.
“The James Webb Space Telescope takes light from a very small star very far away and blows that image up. I’m doing precisely the opposite. It’s the same exact mirrors, you just turn it the other way. If you did that the James Webb way and you want to make something as bright as the sun on the ground with a collimator, the big lens has to be a kilometer-and-a-half across, which is gigantic,” Nowack says.
The inventor worked on a cheap version of the design for more than three months and eventually worked out how to make it smaller and stronger.
“IInstead of making a kilometer-and-a-half single parabola, I am making a kilometer-and-a-half of several million parabolas. These tiny little parabolas are like dimples on a plastic Diet Coke cup. At that size, they hold the shape of the parabola so well. It completely solves the problem and makes it super-linearly scalable,” Nowack explains.
In order to go to the application of such an idea, money is needed. The inventor is now raising $5 million by October 1 to send a prototype satellite with a mirror to the International Space Station as early as April. After that, it will be necessary to create a larger satellite, and later – a whole constellation of satellites.