Space-Based Solar Power

a public discussion sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation

About the Study

The National Security Space Office is conducting an on-going study to determine the feasibility of space-based solar power as a source of safe, clean energy that may be able to provide base load power to power grids around the globe, broadcast power to deployed forces during war and peacetime contingencies, and other smaller applications.

The study got underway on 20 April 2007 at the direction of the Director of the National Security Space Office, Major General Jim Armor, who designated his Chief of Future Concepts (Dream Works), Lt Col M.V. “Coyote” Smith, the director of the study.

The stimulus for this study was a briefing given to General Armor in March by Lt Col Mike “Green Hornet” Hornitschek (now a full colonel), who was the original ring leader of the “Space-Based Solar Power Cabal.” The Caballeros is a small group of Air Force officers and civilian scientists and engineers who have other jobs, but are true believers in space-based solar power (or the benefits that can be derived if we can make it work) and have advanced the concept inside the Washington Beltway in their spare time. Lt Col Pete “Lips” Garretson, John “The Evil Dr” Mankins, and Lt Col M.V. “Coyote” Smith (now a full colonel) are at the core of the Caballeros. The Green Hornet and Lips were designated co-leaders of the National Security Space Office Phase 0 interim assessment study. There are over one-hundred and seventy volunteers serving as members of the study. They have widely diverse backgrounds but all have a passion for space, energy, the environment, commerce, education, security, public policy, or any combination thereof.

The National Security Space Office study is laid out like this:

Our Vision

Security in the form of clean energy independence for America, its Allies, and the World

Our Mission

Determine the political, scientific, technical, logisitical, and commercial feasibility of space-based solar power collection and distribution in the 21st Century as a contributing source of clean energy to national power grids and smaller niche applications. Discuss significant capabilities, limitations, and alternatives. Identify challenges that must be overcome, and suggest a research and development investment plan that incrementally retires risk on the path to fielding an operational system. The final report shall not exceed thirty pages and is due to the Director of the National Security Space Office no later than 15 September 2007.*

* Mr Joe Rouge, the Deputy Director of the National Security Space Office (becoming the Director on 30 September upon General Armor’s retirement), directed on 6 September that no final report will be issued. Instead an interim report will be issued, tentatively on the 10th of October at a National Press Club event sponsored by the National Space Society. The study will continue and will focus more intently on certain areas.

Assumptions

1. Future security is in jeopardy due to escalating energy competition among states, environmental damage caused by consumption of carbon-based fuels, and reliance on a small handful of potentially unstable oil supplying states.

2. Space Solar Power must be moved to the commercial sector at the earliest possible time during the research and development phase–government merely wants to be an energy customer.

3. Space Solar Power is not practical today, but will be practical in the future. (Part of our job is to identify the deltas and lay out a plan to close the gap)

Such is the framework of the study.

The question is often asked, “why is the Department of Defense leading this and not the Department of Energy or NASA?”

Simply put, the Department of Energy and NASA studied space-based solar power several years ago and determined that it was too hard to do at that time and they left it at that. Neither of their efforts produced a road map that explains how to make incremental investments in technologies to advance the art of spacefaring and solar energy production in ways that increase the viability of space-based solar power. Today both organizations are are busy doing other things, but several of their members are actively participating in this study in their spare time.

General Armor decided that it is time to give space-based solar power another look, through the eyes of the National Security Space Office. The National Security Space Office is famous for building cross-agency and international partnerships to design innovative new space architectures. This effort will be true to this tradition.

Make no mistake about it, the Department of Defense is NOT interested in being an energy producer or exporter–that’s not what the Department of Defense does. It is interested in clean energy independence as a way of removing what many consider the single greatest impetus for major conflict in the future–energy competition. This study will be looking for ways to make space solar power a viable commercial enterprise for fair free-market competition. The Department of Defense is content being an energy customer.

 
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