Space-Based Solar Power

a public discussion sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation

India, Space Solar Power, Reusable Launch Vehicles, and a Partnership Opportunity?

Posted by Coyote on July 2, 2007

In a recent posting on The Statesmen website, author Stanley Theodore briefly describes India’s intent to pursue space-based solar power in an article titled “Solar Energy In Space to Power India.”

The article implies that India has identified the need for cheap, reliable, frequently reusable spacelift as the principle technical challenge that must be overcome.  The article states:

“Mr Saraswath [India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) chief controller for research and development] said Reusable Launch Vehicles are needed to make [space-based solar power] cost effective.”

Solving the spacelift problem has been identified almost universally in all studies as the principle impediment to all activities in space—this also seems to be the case regarding space-based solar power—now with some independent confirmation from India.

But what is really interesting in Stanley Theodore’s article is the same expression of concern to pursue space-based solar power to  “meet ever growing energy requriements” while recognizing that “the era of conventional fuels is ending.” 

This same sentiment was expressed directly by the President of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on 20 April 2007, before a forum arranged by Boston Univeristy when he stated:  (Read the press release from asia.spaceref.com)

“[C]ivilization will run out of fossil fuels in this Century. However, Solar energy is clean and inexhaustible. However solar flux on earth is available for just 6-8 hours every day whereas incident radiation on space solar power station would be 24 hrs every day. What better vision can there be for the future of space exploration, than participating in a global mission for perennial supply of renewable energy from space, he asked.”

To what degree does this signal a policy alignment between India and the goals of this study?  To what degree does this suggest a partnership with India is ready for the making?

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10 Responses to “India, Space Solar Power, Reusable Launch Vehicles, and a Partnership Opportunity?”

  1. Sam Dinkin said

    All energy importing countries are aligned in their desire to transcend fossil fuels. But they need to do so at a cost that’s cheaper than fossil fuels (including the damage from fossil fuels that we are willing to ameliorate) or else they are non-economic.

    India should be looked at broadly as a country to invest heavily in diplomatically, economically and militarily. India is an important counterbalance to a surging India and resurgent Russia. The US population growth is not as fast as many of the other large countries so we will likely fall from third most populous to fourth, fifth or sixth as Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan grow.

    That partnership with India should include joint space development, but it probably doesn’t make sense to try to integrate efforts and avoid duplication until spending is in the billions per year except as a more general effort born by those outside the project.

    One way that the executive branch tries to bind future Congresses is to make bilateral or multilateral deals and treaties to support spending. This has resulted in billions in international spending on space development. There are flaws with this approach: the spending continues after the research has proven to be a dead end, and the coordination costs eat up a portion of or swamp any benefit.

    Perhaps a jointly funded and administered international prize would get the public relations support and the benefits of joint coordination without incurring the costs until after the research bears sufficient fruit.

  2. shubber said

    India is an important counterbalance to a surging India and resurgent Russia.

    I think you mean China and Russia..? :-)

    The US population growth is not as fast as many of the other large countries so we will likely fall from third most populous to fourth, fifth or sixth as Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan grow.

    I doubt Pakistan will be much of a competitor to the US for quite some time, as their current population is approx 160m and the US is 300m… and economics has shown that as a country’s economy improves and people’s disposable income goes up, they tend to have fewer and fewer children (in no small part because people have more wealth to spend on fewer children, but also because of increased education leading to more careers leading to deferred marraige/childbirth, etc).

  3. Coyote,

    you may be interested in this presentation that was made to the US Council on Environmental Quality, which is turn contains a presentation made to India by the Space Island Group.

    http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/ceq-docs.html

  4. Two of the four cost advantages SpaceIsland cites for Solar Sat Power’s Ground Based Infrastructure:
    * No Power Line Construction & Maintenance
    * No National Power Grid Needed
    assume no Transmission and Distribution grid is needed. Nothing is farther from the truth. SSP’s T&D structure will be identical to those in use today. They are required for power Transmission and Distribution!

    The SSP construction SpaceIsland describes envisions a large construction crew and habitat. The business case for human/astronaut SSP construction does not close – astronauts are 1000 times more expensive than telerobotic construction. Until there are solid commercial/market reasons for people in space we can do nothing more than Apollo did – a few flags and footprints and run home. There is a better way:

    http://www.sspi.gatech.edu/sunsat-how.pdf

  5. Coyote said

    Darel,

    Good points. The paper “How to Build a Space Solar Power System” that you attached to your comment is a good basis for discussion. I am going to post it more broadly and see what comes of it.

  6. Coyote said

    Rocky,

    Interesting briefing. Who was in the audience and how was it received???

    Coyote

  7. Neil Cox said

    I agree with post 4 by Darel Preble: India needs a national grid and power lines, unless SpaceIsland Group is thinking a rectenna which covers all of India, which would cost many trillions of dollars. Likely they are thinking five or ten rectenas evenly spaced about India, each covering several square kilometers, with beam density of about ten kilowatts per square kilometer. This would be moderately dangerous, to the sacred cows as well as humans if the beam fell on a village instead of a rectenna for more than a few minutes. Other people are thinking one kilowatt (or less) per square meter which means more and/or bigger rectennas, but little hazard. In any case, the very high voltage power lines go out (from each retenna) like spokes on a wheel to cities up to 500 kilometers from the nearest rectenna. From each city, 100,000 volt (or there abouts) power lines extend outward like spokes of a wheel to villages up to 100 kilometers from the city. I suppose we could call this a spoke network instead of a grid. Existing power plants could be connected to one or more nearby spokes. Villages close to a spoke could share the spoke with the more distant city or village.
    Even if SpaceIsland Group is thinking 1000 rectennas, we still need the spokes, but they are shorter spokes. Neil

  8. Akhenaten said

    As you may know , I have advocated solar power from Space for over a generation-partly as a longterm clean source of power, partly to replace dwindling fossil fuels , and partly to “leverage” human civilisation out into Space.
    There is now another compelling reason arising directly from the growing hysteria over alleged anthropogenic global warming (AGW)

    I am not alone in seeing a true menace in AGW, namely the threat of a totalitarian regime enforcing unimaginable privations and suffering upon a hated Humanity “To Save the Planet”. This process is well underway, and will, if AGW is not supplanted by a viable alternative view of our future, heading straight for an artifical famine that will make Mao’s Great Leap Forward look timid indeed. Such a famine will accomplish what mere gas, bullet and forced labour could not do– break the human spirit for a very long time indeed. Such is the true malice of the AGW zealots?

    “To Save the Planet” is a classic con, like Saving the (Aryan) Race and “Building the Dictatorship of the Proletariat ” were in the 20 th century. Have we such short memories? Mother Earth is not in danger- but human(e)civilisation based on freedom of conscience, speech, and aspiration quite possibly is.

    There are only two things standing between us and this neo-Orwellian 21st century vision of Hell
    1/ The Sun , in delaying his next cycle might , by cooling the atmosphere, render the AGW thesis self evidently wrong, and the human sacrifices, now being demanded, irrelevant.
    In this event we may yet have cause to replace all our conventional religious imagery with that of the Aten as the true Saviour of Mankind and Freedom!

    2/ Astro-electricity ( or SPS) as now proposed by Coyote Smith et al, has the potential to eliminate shortages of energy , while asteroids and comets relieve us of shortages of raw materials, for the indefinite future.
    Preserving and extending the freedoms of the Enlightenment in a human(e) civilisation is , now, the true “Case for Space”

    Best of luck!

  9. Edawg said

    There are very dark forces against space utilization for many reasons some better than others..but not all are known..AGW is one face of many..We are entering the age of uber-corporations,information warfare and economic manipulation are the name of the game followed by random acts of terrorism.Word through the grapevine is that this current global famine will last for the next 3 years.Our current fuel problem is a punchline to a bad joke

  10. Michael Martin-Smith said

    For Coyote- it was nice to meet you at the recent BIS symposium on saving the Planet. Today’s edition of Space Daily Express carries an article on Solar Sail Update featuring the renewed plans by the Planetary Society to rebuild their Cosmos solar sail prototype programme , and NASA’s nanosat project. Both of these are directed towards the use of solar power for space propulsion- but the issues of furling , packing and deploying a large area delicate sail is being addressed for Cosmos 1 and 2, and may have applications to the design of a prototype SPS.
    Today’s piece ( April 3) may be of interest?

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