International SunSat Design Competition

A collaborative, international competition to design the next-generation of Solar Power Satellites with supportive infrastructure
Don Flournoy
Athens, Ohio
United States
3 Team Members


Our 2013-2015 SunSat Design Competition was officially launched May 23-27 at ISDC-San Diego.

With endorsements from the Society of Satellite Professionals International, the National Space Society and Ohio University, we have extended our Indiegogo campaign in an effort to raise the full $110,000. Please go to the new campaign, spread the word, and make a tax-deductible contribution."

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Personal Statement

My Name is Don Flournoy. I am a Prof. in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University and the founding Editor of the Online Journal of Space Communication. For the past four years I have been captivated by the idea that Space-based Solar Power is a plausible path to reducing our global dependence on burning fossil fuels for energy and an obvious way to reduce some of the negative effects of climate change.

I served as Education VP on the board of directors of the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI) for about eight years. At Ohio University, I taught satellite communications beginning in 1986. It is now quite clear to me that the next-generation communication satellites (ComSats) will be solar power satellites (SunSats), and their next big market will be energy. I recently published a book on this topic: Solar Power Satellites (Springer 2012). 

For the past three years I have taught a cross-listed graduate/undergraduate course entitled “Creative Visualization of Science and Technology,” and my students (with the guidance of SSPI and National Space Society professionals) have shared their Space Solar Power designs at NSS-International Space Development Conferences in Chicago, Huntsville, and Washington D.C.

Below is a picture that I took of my students last year with former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn when he was being honored at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

SunSat Design Team with John Glenn at ISDC 2012 (Washington D.C.) 

Our Campaign

Beginning in May 2013, at ISDC-San Diego, our students will be helping us promote our 2013-2015 International SunSat Design Competition, a project of the Space Journal in collaboration with the National Space Society (NSS) and the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI). The broad purpose of the Competition will be to accelerate the design, manufacture, launch and operation of next-generation satellites that will collect energy in space and deliver it to Earth as a non-polluting source of electrical power.

In the Fall 2013, Ohio University students and staff, working in collaboration with the Space Journal and the Ohio University Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Laboratory, will begin a formal process of linking space-based solar power professionals and entrepreneurs with (local and global) digital media labs that have the capability to do science and technology visualization. Having a good visualization is an important first step in advancing innovative concepts.

The SunSat Design website explains and facilitates the formal registration of design teams with an interest in participating. The website also points to student-generated “creative visualizations” already being published in Space Journal Issue No.17. These are intended to serve as models for the upcoming Competition, including innovative designs re. solar sails, sun-synchronous orbits, wireless transfer of power and rectifying (receiving) antennas. Also noted are space solar applications such as rural refrigeration of farm produce, desalination of saltwater, disaster relief, global energy exchange and space settlements.

What We Need

We are looking for $110,000 to be used for project management (OU GRID Lab students and staff for 2013-2014), up-front incentive funds for registrants (competitive teams that have successfully met the conditions for registration for 2013-2014) and prizes (to be awarded at ISDC-2014).

These will be allocated as follows:

  • GRID Lab Management Team: $10,000
  • SunSat (Registered) Teams: $36,000
  • Cash Prizes to be Awarded: $54,000

By awarding generous prizes, we hope to attract professionals and students with a real interest in Space Solar Power, i.e., space scientists teamed with high-capability digital media labs around the world. Our Top 3 awards will be $10,000 each; there will be 3 Runner-up awards at $5,000 and 3 Honorable Mention awards of $3,000 each.

For those teams completing the registration process, the idea is to give them some funds to get going, to keep going, and to complete their work. Assuming 12 registered teams, each team will be given $1,000 upon finalizing its registration (October 2013), $1,000 will be given to teams on-track at a mid-point (February 2014) and $1,000 will be given to teams completing the judging process as a travel supplement to ISDC (May 2014).

The GRID Lab will be given $10,000 right away, since it must set up the registration, hand-holding and monitoring process. The GRID Lab will make use of its own Nebula, an online platform for inter-team collaboration and posting of high-definition videos, images, and other media resources. Nebula will also be the means by which the Ohio University managers will maintain secure communication with space solar power mentors and digital media producers, and the way final judging can be done without the need for travel.

Note: Any funds recieved above the $110,000 goal will be rolled into the second year of the SunSat Design Competition (2014-2015), and those awards will be made at ISDC 2015 (site not yet announced).


Why is this Competition worth the money and effort?

A recent 10-nation "International Assessment of Space Solar Power," conducted by the International Academy of Astronautics, concluded that the goal of harnessing sun’s energy in space is both technically and economically feasible. Not only can this energy be safely beamed to Earth, it has become an environmental necessity that we do so.

What can we do to help? Since all this depends on science and engineering, a language spoken by very educated people who have great ideas but who tend to only talk to each other, you and I can help by putting these concepts into forms of communication that can be more widely understood, appreciated, and discussed.

Why digital media? Let’s say a scientist/engineer/entrepreneur has an innovative idea for saltwater desalination using space solar power, but has no way to make this technically complex and potentially expensive concept understandable and of interest to those who might most benefit from it. Digital video and animation augmented with social media are powerful vehicles for telling the “SSP desalination” story in ways that will capture the attention of the public, the journalistic media, and investment communities.

There are literally hundreds of such ideas relating to new sources of alternative energy, new ways to generate energy that are non-polluting, and delivering electrical power where it is most needed. The Space Journal is committed to publishing as many of these “creative designs” (accompanied by credible research and plausible businesses plans) as can be generated by the Competition. Each design will be submitted to critical review and delivered to the public for their discussion and understanding. 

These alternative ideas about the future of space and energy can (and should) be surfaced for consideration. Your financial help with project management, and especially with the prize money that increases incentives for competitive team participation, will heighten visibility and help us take a real step forward.

Other ways you can help?

One of the goals of this Competition is to foster communication and discussion about energy from space.

Make some noise about this Competition. Help us get the word out. Share this announcement with your friends, colleagues, parents...

International SunSat Design Competition

Rewarding Innovation and Communication

Now accepting entries from all nations

Don Flournoy, Prof. of Telecommunications Editor, Online Journal of Space Communication; Scripps College of Communication, Ohio Center of Excellence; Ohio University, Athens Ohio 45701, 740-593-4866.

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This campaign ended on June 6, 2013
Select a Perk
  • $25USD
    Crew Support

    Your name will be listed as a competition supporter in the DVD credits, and receive a digital print of the Competition banner. Plus, access to competition updates and news, and our heartfelt thanks.

    2 claimed
  • $50USD
    Crew Member

    In addition to the Crew Support package, you'll receive an exclusive International SunSat Design Competition mission patch.

    2 claimed
  • $75USD
    Senior Crew Member

    A full-color wall print of the Competition banner, as well as the mission patch and all perks from the Crew Support tier.

    0 claimed
  • $100USD
    Telemetry Package

    You'll be joining us as a Senior Crew Member, receiving all perks from that tier and those before it, plus a DVD containing the winning designs. ($10 is requested for overseas shipping)

    2 claimed
  • $250USD
    Mission Scientist

    As a Mission Scientist, your Competition patch will be personalized with the name or phrase of your choice. You'll receive all perks of the Telemetry Package and the tiers before it, as well as a signed copy of Prof. Don Flournoy's book Solar Power Satellites (Springer 2012).

    2 claimed
  • $500USD
    Flight Controller

    Flight Controllers receive all perks from the previous tiers, including the personalized patch and book. They will also be invited to serve as a Competition Mentor, supporting our teams as they complete their designs.

    0 claimed
  • $1,000USD
    Mission Commander

    As a Mission Commander, you will be invited to sit on a judging committee responsible for reviewing submitted entries. You will receive all perks of previous tiers, including the personalized patch and signed copy of Solar Power Satellites.

    0 claimed
  • $5,000USD
    Board Member's Package

    You will be designated a member of the International SunSat Design Competition board of advisors. In May 2014, you will be given the opportunity to name one of the awards, and to present that award in-person at ISDC Los Angeles. (You are responsible for travel arrangements and conference fees)

    0 out of 3 claimed
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