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!
I’ll assert for argument’s sake that governments must accept the investment costs until the time comes that all the requisite technologies and industrial infrastructure is in place to make space-based solar power profitable. My opinion, based on working with governments and industry, is that a direct approach will not work. In other words, making a single large budget item called “space-based solar power” that tries to solve all the problems along the way will not work. An indirect approach is necessary that leverages off of other people’s budget and work in related areas. This keeps the budget much smaller, but keeps the program moving forward. Governments will only accept the cost if there is a long list of spin-off benefits, especially jobs. How am I doing so far?
I suggest a three-phase approach to space-based solar power. First we crawl. We stand up a small but active office to sustain the effort over the long haul. During this phase we continue to study the problem, but formalize and fund the research, leveraging heavily off of related work being done among other programs (an indirect approach). We conduct full-blown architecture and environmental impact studies, seek appropriate partnerships, build political support, but most important of all, we identify all the pieces of technology and other infrastructure elements that must be developed to make this a viable concept, and use our little office to track and propel their progress. We must also review space law, treaties, and customs to determine what changes must be made to normalize human commercial enterprises in space and on the heavenly bodies to facilitate the prudent use of space resources.
Next, we walk. In this phase we stimulate investment in the related technical and infrastructure items (such as lift, photovoltaics, rectenna technology, etc) and advance our spacefaring prowess in those areas. We conduct on-orbit experiments to validate our work and incrementally retire risks. All the while, the office we established in the crawl-phase is working with the think tanks, internationals, private industry, legislative liaisons, and the laboratories to keep everything greased and on track. In this phase we must work aggressively with the global community to establish a favorable legal regime for this and future human commercial activities in space.
Then we run. Well, we start with a jog actually. While jogging we conclude contracts and set up industry for production and operation of the system(s). We’ll need to square away the method of handing this over to the commercial sector. The running starts when we commence launch and on-orbit assembly through checkout, and hand over the keys to this bad boy to some dude or dudette in appropriate business attire.
Viola–space-based solar power becomes reality. Then it’s time for tea and medals.
This entry was posted on June 15, 2007 at 9:48 am and is filed under Study-Related. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.