Space-Based Solar Power

a public discussion sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation

Space Solar Power: Much More Than Clean Energy

Posted by Coyote on July 16, 2007

In a recent posting to washingtonpost.com, author Steven Mufson pessimistically asserts in “Climate Change Debate Hinges on Economics:”

“Because of the enormous cost of addressing global warming, the energy legislation considered by Congress so far will make barely a dent in the problem, while farther-reaching climate proposals stand a remote chance of passage.”

I tend to agree with Mufson.

We must not kid ourselves; nothing is a more farther-reaching climate proposal than space-based solar power. If pursued for that reason alone–especially as a big government program–I believe nothing would come of it. Not to despair. There are many more reasons to develop space-based solar power, and another way of going about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Commercial Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power, Environmental Challenges of Space-Based Solar Power, Political Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power, Study-Related | 17 Comments »

Meet Coyote in D.C. 18 July 2007

Posted by Coyote on July 15, 2007

Fellow Space Solar Power Advocates and Skeptics,

I know many of you are planning to attend the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2007 Conference in Washington D.C. If you are, this is a great opportunity for us to meet!

On Wednesday, 18 July, I will be in the Doubletree Hotel lounge from around 5:30 to 6:30pm.

Please stop by and say hello and be ready to talk about space-based solar power!  (We’ll turn it into a 5,000 hits party!)

Cheers!

Coyote

Posted in Space Solar Power news | 6 Comments »

Space Solar Power Meets Wikipedia…

Posted by Coyote on July 8, 2007

The Evil Dr Mankins introduced me to Wikipedia a couple of months ago. Naturally, I felt like an idiot because apparently this has been a huge Internet phenomenon over the last few years that I just missed. What can I say? I’ve been distracted by reality lately.

But I’ve discovered that Wikipedia can be a wealth of information and misinformation…and the innocent might not know the difference.

Please take a look at Wikipedia’s page titled Space Power Satellite.

Is this information or misinformation? Would this serve as a sufficient primer on the subject of space solar power? What edits can we make to improve this page for everyone’s benefit?

Posted in Study-Related, Technical Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power | 10 Comments »

Making the Business Case for Space Solar Power

Posted by Coyote on July 8, 2007

People tend to use the cheapest forms of energy. Companies tend to promote whatever has the highest profit margin. Today’s petroleum infrastructure is massive, expensive, well-integrated across the international community and still highly profitable.

So…how do we make the business case for space-based solar power?

We need to keep in mind the sage advice of Machiavelli:

One should keep in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success than to introduce a new system of things; for he who introduces it has all those who profit fro the old system as his enemies, and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit the new system.

Posted in Commercial Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power | 22 Comments »

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.” 

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Space Solar Power news, Technical Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power | 10 Comments »

Environmental Safety is Paramount

Posted by Coyote on June 28, 2007

The goal of space-based solar power is to provide clean energy whose collection and use is safer than the current carbon-based alternatives.  An interesting concern was raised by a person who blogged in response to the posting by my friend, Noah Shactman, in the “Danger Room.”  The blogger writes:

“If the conversion efficiency [at the rectenna on the ground] were 100%, you’d lose nothing to heat during the conversion. If it’s less than 100%, there will be a net warming of the planet as a consequence to collecting this energy. It doesn’t matter if [the power beamed from space is] infrared or microwave.

But the real losses come from *using* that energy. Few tasks that we use electricity for do not produce waste heat somehow. This is heat energy that did not previously exist in our atmosphere. I’d be surprised if anything less than 99.9% of this energy did not ultimately get converted to heat on the ground.”

I think it is safe to assume that people will continue to *use* energy in the future, but we are trying to provide a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative energy source. What efficiencies do we need on the gound to prevent this from becoming a curse rather than a blessing?

Posted in Environmental Challenges of Space-Based Solar Power | 12 Comments »

A Skeptical Engineer Has His Say…

Posted by Coyote on June 24, 2007

Click here to view briefing:  A Skeptical Analysis

A very good friend of mine who is a respected engineer constantly reminds me of how formidable a task space-based solar power really is. He quite literally thinks it is a ludicrous idea. He provided me with his first order assessment of the proposition to provide 100% of current US base load energy from space given today’s industry and infrastructure. It is filled with statements like:

“At 100% efficiency and effective array thickness of 0.001 m (1 mm) mass on-orbit would be down by factor of ten – so it would only take ~ 1000 years to deploy at one EELV Heavy launch a day”

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Posted in Scientific Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power | 65 Comments »

Communitarian Laws versus Venture Capitalism

Posted by Coyote on June 24, 2007

United Nations Treaties and Principles
On Outer Space, UN, New York, 2002

Do international treaties and laws impede the development of space-based solar power?

Last week at small symposium in Colorado, a professor of space law argued that the profits from any resource harvested from space, to include energy, must be shared with all of humanity and that this principle is enshrined in Article I of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967:

“The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.”

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Posted in Legal Challenges for Space-Based Solar Power | 14 Comments »

Space Policy? Energy Policy? Security Policy?

Posted by Coyote on June 19, 2007

An apparent stumbling block for space-based solar power inside Washington (and probably elsewhere) is that it is always someone else’s job. It spans far beyond any single organization’s charter, so it becomes the dropped ball, getting only an occasional glance from the players:

  • Energy is the Department of Energy’s job (hence the name), but they don’t do space
  • NASA does space, but they’re doing Moon, Mars, and beyond, not energy
  • The Department of Defense also does space, but it is not in the energy business

As the political parties hammer out their platforms for the 2008 presidential election, where should they address the development of space-based solar power? How should the new administration proceed? Who should be the lead department or agency?

Coyote

Posted in Political Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power | 39 Comments »

The Genesis Briefing

Posted by Coyote on June 19, 2007

Lt Col Mike “Green Hornet” Hornitschek found himself at Air War College with a paper to write. He did it on DoD energy transformation (see “War Without Oil: A Catalyst for True Transformation” in the Air Force Journal of Logistics). It included some discussion of space solar power. Then he came to the Pentagon where he met some fellow enthusiasts of space solar power (Lips & Dr Evil) who helped him prepare a PowerPoint briefing on the subject. They formed the Space Solar Power Cabal (read about them in “About the Study” above). The briefing was presented widely around Washington and inside the Pentagon.

See for yourself the briefing they built that led to the creation of this study:

Space-Based Solar Power: An Opportunity for Strategic Security

Comments?

Coyote

Posted in Study-Related | 23 Comments »

Crawl, Walk, Run: A Path To Space-Based Solar Power

Posted by Coyote on June 15, 2007

Our space-based solar power effort is like a newborn that has not yet learned to crawl–but this study puts us on the verge of crawling!

I’m speaking specifically about our ability to feed space-based solar power into electrical power grids on Earth or use it to drive the production of clean liquid fuels. With a desired end state of handing this entire enterprise over to the commercial sector it is clear that we have to create a supportive geopolitical environment and deliver capabilities that will ultimately enable companies to make a healthy profit by delivering energy to consumers at a competitive fair market price. I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think this can happen if we strap those companies with the entire research & development cost before they produce their first unit of energy. Please take a chainsaw to the limb if I am off base!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Study-Related | 34 Comments »

The Vision (…and probably why you’re here)

Posted by Coyote on June 13, 2007

So my boss turns to me and says, “Coyote, this is just too important to America, our Allies, and the World. I want you to lead a study to figure out if space solar power is possible, and if it is, let’s get on with it. We can’t wait for someone else to pick this up; we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”

You can read all about how this study came to be by clicking on “About The Study” in the bar above. It lays out what we’re trying to do here. The problem set is H U G E. It is too large for anyone to solve by themselves–especially me, a simple caveman space professional. But we have this little thing called the Internet that can connect us and lets us look at this problem from all sides. We all have talents. Let’s see what we can do together.

When I started this project a couple of months ago I was a skeptic, but I’ve become a cautious optimist. I sent an email to a friend yesterday and summed up my feelings about the project this way:

I can’t think of a better legacy for our generation to leave to posterity than solving Earth’s energy needs once and for all…and opening a wider highway to the heavens at the same time.

I look forward to working with all of you. Game ON!

Coyote

Posted in Study-Related | 20 Comments »

Scientific Challenges

Posted by Coyote on June 9, 2007

All,

Many credible scientists and engineers tell us that we have concluded all of the science we need to make space-based solar power work. It is now just a matter of advancing the technology and logistics to make it economically feasible. Is this right?

Coyote

Posted in Scientific Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power | 41 Comments »

Sunshine From a Space Cynic

Posted by Coyote on June 9, 2007

You Are My Sunshine
By Shubber Ali, Space Cynics, Saturday June 09, 2007

Shubber Ali points out that a prerequisite for space-based solar power is “cheap, reliable, reusable access to space.” This jives with expert opinions rendered by some core members of my team. (Do the beautiful people still say “jives?”)

But believe it or not, I am actually partly heartened by this latest push to SSPS. Why? … I am firmly of the belief that only the DoD has the budget, the operational experience, and the political clout to develop truly cheap, reliable, reusable access to space.

I include Ali’s note to Gen Armor because he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for advancing the art of spacefaring through innovative approaches like taking our work on-line for all to participate in!

Note to Major General James Armor (Director of the National Security Space Office) – kudos for having the foresight to look at this problem…

Coyote

Posted in Space Solar Power news | 2 Comments »

Wired Coyote

Posted by Robin on June 8, 2007

Military Target: Solar-Beaming Sats
By Noah Shachtman, Wired, June 07, 2007

Last month, a man at a bar introduced himself as “Coyote,” and told me he was working on the Pentagon’s plans to build a string of satellites that beamed solar rays down to Earth.

Posted in Political Challenges to Space-Based Solar Power, Space Solar Power news | 7 Comments »

Press clips

Posted by Robin on June 4, 2007

Space solar power: opposition and obstacles
Taylor Dinerman, The Space Review, Monday, June 4, 2007

Potentially unlimited solar power from space would seem to be something everyone could support, but that is not necessarily the case.

Pentagon Considering Study on Space-Based Solar Power
— Space News 11 April 2007

The Pentagon’s National Security Space Office (NSSO) may begin a study in the near future on the possibility of using satellites to collect solar energy for use on Earth, according to Defense Department officials.

Posted in Space Solar Power news | 1 Comment »

 
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