Space-Based Solar Power

a public discussion sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation

A message for the next President

Posted by Robin on July 29, 2008

Take a look at this video. It was posted a few days ago on Youtube. Apparently it was made by people who want to inform the next administration about the long term energy and environmental benefits of a space policy that embraces space-based solar power.

Your thoughts?


Coyote (with posting help from Rocket Sellers)

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23 Responses to “A message for the next President”

  1. Jacques Chester said

    Two things I’d change:

    1. Sources. There aren’t any. You don’t need footnotes, but something in brackets (NASA 1989, DOE 2002) etc would add a lot of credibility.
    2. The way the font transitions is awful. Ordinary fade in would be far more readable.

    Interesting choice of music — from Macross Plus, a great little OVA.

  2. Robert said

    I enjoyed it. Far easier story to follow than the spoken word could have done. Footnotes and brackets? Who needs the clutter? The President’s advisors got all the footnotes and brackets.

  3. I am now working with a chapter of The American Solar Energy Society and related efforts. The lack of sources in this pretty vid is problematic and I am not sure the assertions line up with some of the best work in the field.

    While I would like to see SSP get going, one thing I learned doing space advocacy is that one never makes headway attacking kindred projects…such as ground based renewables.

    We need a diversity of truely clean energy sources and many need to be local as this puts accountability and power at the local level. That said I am sure there are ways to support SSP as a mid term resource that needs seed funds now. I hope that helps.

  4. Dan Lantz said

    Steps in the “logic”:
    1. Space Solar Power via Solar Power Satellites-see Space collection and microwave issues.
    2. In Space Resource Use-make most things from lunar/asteroid material.
    3. Use Moon surface as existing Solar Power Satellite.

  5. Coyote said

    Jaques Chester: We’re not sure who made the video, but your point about citing sources is a good one. Some like it that way, and others do not.

    Robert: Following my comments to Jaques, you are one who does not want to see citations. That’s fine. People have different tastes and the world would be much less interesting if we were all the same. I guess it depends on who you show the video to. The rule is to “know your audience.” Since this was on Youtube, it was basically thrown out there for all to see.

    Kathleen Connell: I fully support the funded development of ALL forms of safe, clean energy. As you point out, “attacking kindred projects…such as ground-based renewables” is not what we are about. We NEED as many sources of safe, clean energy as we can develop, so lets be mutually supportive. Like the other forms of energy, Space Solar Power will find its niche markets.

    Dan Lantz: I think what you are advocating is progressing from developing and deploying Solar Power Satellites from the Earth to doing so from lunar and asteroid material when that becomes feasible. Then using the large lunar surface as a collector and broadcaster of energy back to Earth. Is that right? If so, I agree. Here’s a question for you…what legal work needs to be done to enable states or commercial companies to occupy and use lunar and asteroid materials to build such systems?

    Cheers All!


  6. Robert said credits the video to Stanley Von Medvey, Mike Snead, and Howard Bloom, an NSS Governor. You can click on Bloom’s name on the NSS 7/29 post for his bio and links to other projects. Judging by the prominent Google ad at the end of the video (which is itself Googleable), I would guess that those folks have alot to do with its production. I thought the video was rather charitable to “kindred projects”, mentioning that, by 2100, ground-based alternatives could provide perhaps a third of our energy needs. Oil, coal, and nuclear, going full blast, would still leave a shortfall of 66%. Without mincing words, the video states that we need all the oil, coal, and money we can get to start an SSP program, but that the time to start is very soon, before we run out of those commodities. Even T. Boone Pickens projects that his wind plan is, at best, a small feeder strategy. If the film is primarily intended for the next American President, I assume (perhaps erroneously) that credits, citations, notes, considerations, testimony, support materials, and competing arguments would come from live people sitting in the room or on a webex with him. Am I missing something?

  7. Dan Lantz said

    Coyote #5:

    Thanx for keeping things going!
    Please see pg 52 of “our” Ad Astra issue (may not be part of web version). In second para, author Greg Allison warns of the danger of the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). I was just getting interested in this topic when the infamous Moon Treaty was almost ratified. Perhaps some input from a group such as NSSO could help the Senate understand the implications? Or at least protect Space from the same fate? Also, much to watch as the Arctic becomes part of the open ocean.
    As to the “lunar suface” question, I recall David Criswell (Lunar Solar Power-LSP) having a chart showing much the same idea as the video, that is, most “other” energy systems cannot actually be scaled up to really solve most of the problem. I would argue that Clarke orbit SPS may suffer the same fate, once you start looking at light pollution, station keeping and, especially, Space junk. Earth launch is especially hard to scale up to the needed degree, even if it gets pretty cheap. So, while I would love to see a few Earth launched SPSs deployed, I would skip the step of making them from lunar material, and just “leave” the lunar material derived collectors on the Moon. This would seem to apply to asteriodal material also, as it is pretty easy to plop raw stuff down on the Moon. Other than the power beam itself, In Space Resource Use (ISRU) LSP avoids most of the “popular” objections to Space Solar Power that I have seen. Perhaps contrasting SPS and LSP would be a good way to focus attention and learning about SSP in general?
    By the way, it is only the fact that the Moon has surface area, and solar collectors are all about surface area, that makes LSP work cheaply. Most other Space things should be done in Free Space. I am not a “planetary chauvinist”!

  8. Edawg said

    Great video I sense some viral spreading in the near future all those Macross fans will sure be happy.Coyote ,I have a question whats is your standing with the wired community?I have a feeling that Wired Coyote could be a big hit

  9. Neil Cox said

    Links I can click on are helpful. Many of us do not have easy access to citations and finding the applicable part of the document (if any) is time consuming.
    Yes, moon and asteroids can be be helpful in 15 years if we start investing 50 billion per year in the moon now. We likely can’t raise that much moon money, and we may not have 15 years see $700 billion per year and increasing, before the USA becomes a third world country, unless we persue many kinds of alternative energy including power satellites made from Earth’s surface materials.
    Worse, we cannot finalize the design of the lunar solar energy collectors and transmitters until we know the specs of the material we can get in large quantities from the moon. How can we determine the specifications of material derived from the moon before 2023? Neil

  10. guido said

    Wow,i made a presentation on this subject in my Energy and Society class at UNCA. We were asked to pick an energy source and present it. This was not covered in the text and at first no one knew enough about the subject to partner with me…One fellow class mate did…Because of my respect and interest SSP, i had collected a trove of information.

    We made the presentation was as i recall many people came up and were fascinated by the topic.

    This would have been a great opening film…in the absence of that i drew a map of the atmosphere, portraying the atmosphere and how it reflects light and reduces the potential energy that reaches the ground for PV, etc. to use, at a very low efficiency by the way.

    It is still a mystery why this is not a subject of our presidential candidates. McCain advocates more offshore drilling which will not be available until 2017 according to the EIA. That is the time frame in which we could do this.

    My hope is that JAXA’s efforts are successful and spurs us the same way Sputnik did.

    Kudos to you all.

  11. Justin McCarthy said

    Great Video. However, I would note that it states that “solar panels in space collect 100% more energy per square inch than their ground based cousins”. I am not the “quant” in the bunch, but that does not sound very compelling and appears to create a great target to be used to deconstruct the SBSP case, unless they meant to say “100 times more energy.” Sometimes the creatives get these confused. Sorry to pick nits.


  12. Coyote said

    Robert: Good job. You are a clever detective in discovering the credits! On your second point, maybe we need to have a sit down with T. Boon Pickens to see how he feels about space-based solar power. He is certainly getting plenty of air time with his rather provocative commercials. He seems to think holistically about energy, much like Geoffrey Styles who describes our energy consumption as a “diet” of various energy sources.

    Dan Lantz: The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) frightens me. I personally believe that if it is enacted that the seabed, Antarctica, and outer space will become the equivalent of National Parks where all human activity is discouraged. More frightening is that the park managers will be some international organization set up through the United Nations requiring it all be treated as common property which demands almost universal approval for ANY development or utilization. If ratified, I fear they will tell the SATCOM industry to start cutting checks to their 6 Billion new shareholders. Maybe not, but the Common Heritage language is pervasive.

    Edawg: Wired Coyote? That sounds like a weekend goal (chuckle). I hardly know anything about the Wired community. What can you tell me about it?

    Neil Cox: Do you think T. Boon Pickens would be willing at this point to expand his vision to include space-based solar power? His help could really make a difference, especially to gain the attention needed to fund the advanced experimentation that we require to validate our technical path. I agree fully with your desire to survey and develop lunar resources to really open up our Earth-bound system more completely to the vast resources of space. In time, it will be a practical matter of doing things on and from the Moon as we become more savvy in our spacefaring.

    Guido: I’m am entirely pleased to hear about your presentation! I hope you got an ‘A’ and really impressed your classmates with your totally cool topic. Perhaps, just maybe, some of the information we’ve been pushing on the Internet, across the media, and in our Interim Assessment published by the NSSO helped in some small way. I share your hope that JAXA and other states and businesses succeed in their ventures into space-based solar power, in addition to American efforts. This is a global issue. We all need safe, clean energy from as many sources as we can develop. I want to avoid energy wars in the future. That’s my motivation. Hey, if you have any slides and/or papers from your presentation, would you allow me to post them here? It really might be helpful to our teammates to see what you were able to put together from your various sources. We really need to learn how to “feed” the student community with the information they need. After all, you are the new generation that will build, own, and operate these satellites!

    Justin: Yup, you’re right. The numbers need to be tweaked to make sure the video is credible to the technically competent skeptics. Whenever I hear 100%, whether it’s true or not, it always raises a flag in my mind. Perhaps stating it differently, such as, “ten times more energy…,” or “more energy by an order of magnitude…” Is that better?

    Thanks all. Cheers!


    P.S. Guido, this Bud’s for you. Good on you.

  13. Edawg said


    The wired community is a wonderfull synergistic news site that acts like a home base for both the civilians and the military community.There is no love for the evil military industrial complex there.Since NSSO started the first Pentagon blog..ever! This community can throw its weight around with good effect.If SSP can be sexed up!


  14. Justin McCarthy said

    Re: Video reference to amount of energy in space.

    Probably something generic but accurate at this juncture such as “Ten times more energy with no loss of energy due to clouds, dust or nighttime, just 24/7 of pure solar energy.”

    I noted in one of the posts re. JAXA citing 8 to 10 times.



  15. Justin McCarthy said

    Hope all the video’s numbers get vetted or cited as proposed. The per capita oil consumption seems high.


  16. Robert said

    Speaking of T. Boone Pickens, do I understand that Buzz Aldrin is talking to Mr. Pickens now about SBSP? I’m referencing an article: “8 Questions for Astronaut Buzz Aldrin” that appeared in New York Daily News on 8/15/08. Maficstudios replied today to a comment on its YouTube “Space Based Solar Power” video to the effect that Pickens’s science advisor may be pushing him toward fusion, and that SBSP will “fall on deaf ears”. What a shame if that is true!

  17. Coyote said

    Edawg: Thanks for the Wired info. I think I’ll try it out. You mentioned the distrust of the military industrial complex. President Eisenhower felt the same way. I certainly keep my eye out for abuses. You know, I am really quite thankful that this site has attracted serious minded commentary. I was quite concerned that anti-establishment comments were going flood in, but no. I think by laying all our cards on the table face up and engaging in two-way discussions that we’ve helped disabuse people of faulty notions about our intent. Would you agree?

    Justin McCarthy: Good points. I’ve had emails with the makers of the video. They indicated that they are going to check the numbers and maybe make another video that cites sources. I think that’s important, too. I’d like to check JAXA’s sources. By the way, JAXA is doing some very cool stuff these days. I really admire the HDTV shots of the Lunar Surface and especially the full earth rise. You can find them (and everything else, it seems) on Youtube.

    Robert: I’m not sure what Buzz is up to. I saw the article, but it was very short and didn’t give much detail. I spoke with him a few weeks ago. He’s very excited about Space-Based Solar Power. In fact, he was one of the key speakers at our roll-out of the Interim Assessment of space-based solar power at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on 10 October last year. As for T. Boone Pickens, that would be ashamed if he lost sight of space-based solar power as another source of safe clean energy. I like his adds and I admire what he’s trying to do. Hmmmm. How can we get in touch with him to see where he stands on SBSP?



  18. Chris Cagle-Brown said

    I am excited to see this video and discussion. Though I haven’t read it all, I want to know all there is about Space Solar Power. I am an avid fan of this idea, but more than that, I’m researching the topic for a school project. I am a senior in Aerospace Engineering at Mississippi State Univ.; we are required to do senior seminar projects. So I decided to design a system architecture to implement ssp in a practical way (using current satellites and technology). My research so far has been like searching for green needle in a vast internet hay stack…so any help would be appreciated.
    I am looking for hard evidence that this idea is feasible (and possible). My biggest hurdle right now is finding an estimate for power losses in conversions (solar to electricity to microwave beams and back to electricity) and in transmission from space to Earth. Please send me links, articles, published papers, etc. on the ssp topic!

  19. Neil Cox said

    Hi Chris: The estimates have a wide range, partly because we have not agreed on the details. We might put up some solar synchronous satellites (someone suggested altitude 600 nautical miles) These would likely stay perhaps 100 miles East of sun set as they circled the Earth. I think they can be semi polar, so they would occasionally pass over most of the countries of Earth, instead of favoring the countries in the tropic zone. Typically they would deliver the energy to solar sites in greatest need who might be willing to pay as much as 30 cents per kilowatt hour for enough electricity to avoid rolling blackouts near by. Instead of microwaves, the satellite would have perhaps 2 million 1/2 watt laser diodes. The solar panels on the satellite would need to produce about 2 million watts as the diodes are presently about 50% efficient. About 1/2 of the beam energy would be lost passing though Earth’s atmosphere and about 20% of the received 500,000 watts would be converted to electricity = 100,000 watts = enough for at least 50 homes. If the illuminated spot is 1000 square meters (we likely cannot get the spot that small at present, but likely can by 2012 when the satellite is ready to launch. With microwaves we may never be able to get the spot that small) the average power density is 1000 watts per square meter = 1/10 th watt per square centimeter = the maximum allowable leakage from microwave ovens. Even if the beam falls on a city for a year, few to no human casualties are likely. The system will be designed so that no likely group of failures can cause even 1/10th second exposure of a city. The hazard will be far down the list of hazards most likely to afflict average humans. We can, and perhaps will have to, reduce the average beam density to perhaps 100 watts per per square meter, because we cannot get the spot size smaller than 10,000 square meters. Not many solar receiving sites are presently as large as 10,000 square meters, and the illuminated spot will be elliptical unless the satellite is directly over head. That will occur rarely and briefly, so the larger illuminated spot will often fall partly outside the solar receiving site, wasting part of the beam’s energy and producing a hazard in some people’s mind.
    Perhaps 200,000 watts is delivered to square kilometer size rectennas by microwave (starting with 2 million watts of photovoltaic cells in the same orbit) but we have not built a rectenna nearly that large, so some surprises are likely, and rectenna cost projection are likely optimistic. We possibly can launch the entire laser satellite including the 200,000 watts of photovoltaic cells, with a single launch. Sending the same equipment to GEO stationary orbit (altitude 36,000 kilometers) would require perhaps ten launches and assembly in space. The feasibility of assembly in space has not been demonstrated except by repairs to the Hubble space telescope, and the construction of ISS = the international space station. Neil

  20. Robert said

    If President-elect Obama is indeed intending to re-establish the National Space Council (“Senator Obama and re-establishing the National Aeronautics & Space Council”, The Space Review, 8/11/08), I for one would suggest that he direct his Council to review SBSP as soon as is reasonable so that a decision can be made whether to go for it as a national goal. NASA, DOE, and Coyote’s group at DOD have favorably reviewed. Several ground tests of wireless power transmission have proven successful. Money, strategy, and cost reduction in tough times are the remaining issues. Coyote and company are working on getting two demonstrator sats in space by 2010 (“Time to Build! A First Look at The Initial Plan”). If the perfect storm of current global energy, economic, security, and environment crises beg for an announced clean solution “within 10 years”, then this is the program that rightfully builds on the work of the Apollo teams and other pioneers as well as the legacies of President Kennedy and Dr. M.L. King, who both pointed us, in their own way at an earlier critical time, towards the top of the earth’s gravity well.

  21. mike newton said

    Thank you, sirs. I appreciate this discussion being an avid watcher of space progress since 1964. After reading ‘Colonies in Space’ in 1977 I have been continually disenchanted with the extreme lack of progress. Kudos for the emphasis on placating the politicos. I remain skeptical that our pleasant entreaties will ever match the power of the entrenched status quo. If Obama does create green energy jobs as promised, I will be pleasantly amazed. Ideally, I wonder if the solar array may somehow, someday be positioned such that it might function as an adjustable shading mechanism for our planet. If Carl Sagan was right we are already headed for a runaway hothouse effect.

  22. Neil Cox said

    My guess is Earth has reached our maximum average annual temperature for the 21 st century, but I may be surprised. To shade most effectively, the SSP needs to be several square miles and in solar synchronous orbit. This is also the optimum orbit to reflect additional sun light to Earth should we get new ice age. Present solar panels reflect about 1/2 of the sunlight that falls on them like a mirror, so for cooling, this beam of sunlight should miss Earth most of the time. Solar synchronous is best for peak demand electricity around the world, but GEO stationary orbit = 36000 kilometers altitude is best for baseline power. Neil

  23. Robert said

    My comment #20 is a variation of a longer response that I sent to the Presidential transition site If anyone has any direct recommendations for the incoming Administration, they can send them there. They are not posted on the site, but I assume that someone gets around to reading them sooner or later.

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