Space-Based Solar Power

a public discussion sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation

Archive for October 13th, 2008

Time to Build! A First Look at “The Initial Plan”

Posted by Coyote on October 13, 2008


Its time to let actions speak louder than words. We’re going to build the first ever space-based solar power satellites!

I made this announcement at the International Space Development Conference and again at the New$pace (properly spelled with a dollar sign) conference in Washington D.C. this summer. Now it’s time to let you in on what has been discussed. We are still at the beginning of this project. That’s why I want to start by going public. I believe in providing transparency into this project because developing another source of safe, clean energy is just too important to the US, our Allies, and the World.

In addition, I want to hear from you. You probably have lots of ideas that can help us out. Now, let’s look into our project a bit closer.


Earlier this summer Ambassador Roger Harrison, the Director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies at the United States Air Force Academy, had the idea of building a small SBSP demonstration satellite at the Academy and in concert with a handful of other highly technical and competent universities inside the US. He invited me to serve as the “Visiting Associate Director for Special Space Solar Power Projects” at the Eisenhower Center. Yes, that ominous sounding title is a mouthful that makes me chuckle every time he says it. For some reason it makes me want to wear a bigger hat with my uniform.

Our Vision, Mission, and Mandate:

Our vision is to light a single bulb from space and in-so-doing light the path for business to follow.

Our mission is to give academy and university students a one-of-a-kind educational experience solving real world energy problems on the path to commercial development of space-based solar power. At the same time, this will help build the work force for industry to capitalize on.

Our mandate is to Keep It Cheap And Simple and deliver it Soon (KICASS). Be careful who you pronounce the acronym in front of…and please use a hard ‘c’ sound, because a soft ‘c’ is unacceptable!

Project Overview:

The project involves the building of two satellite systems concurrently, one “heavy” and one “light.” This dual approach using radically different methods gives us greater assurance that we will succeed in the event that technical, legal, financial, or other challenges bog down one effort. Both satellite missions will be launched into space, if possible. The desired launch dates are in 2010.

Each satellite must weigh 400 pounds or less and be prepared to ride into orbit for free on an ESPA ring. In order to keep the weight of the satellite down, we must use lasers for power beaming because the microwave systems are way too large. There is a benefit in this. Neither the Federal Communications Commission nor the International Telegraphic Union need to be consulted for laser energy beaming as there are no associated frequencies that must be deconflicted. Such consultation would be required if we were using microwave.

The “heavy” satellite mission represents a more complicated set of tasks and greater expense than its counterpart. It will place on orbit a satellite that will collect power and broadcast it to Earth via laser (1.0 or 0.86 microns). In order to keep the size of the solar array light and manageable, we will accept several orbits to allow the satellite to store energy and build up a sufficient charge for broadcast to the ground receiving station where the lightbulb will be illuminated. The use of a positive control laser at the ground receiving station will be used to allow the satellite to aim its laser precisely at the receiver and to authorize its discharge.

The “light” satellite mission turns the experiment on its head. It will place on orbit a satellite that merely contains a receiver and the lightbulb that will be illuminated by a ground-based laser (1.0 or 0.86 microns). Visual observation of the light on the satellite being illuminated during the laser broadcast will indicate success.

To keep the project as cheap as possible, the use of existing ground equipment is desired. Using simple satellite designs and employing proven hardware is also desired.

The satellites need not have a long on-orbit life and our goal is to allow them to safely deorbit at any time after successfully completing the experiment, which will likely include the requirement for replication by independent observers.


International Traffic in Ams Regulations (ITAR), which I hate with a passion, prevents us from working with non-US universities and non-US citizens.  (I personally cheer on all attempts to improve ITAR (WIHWAP) so we can collaborate more broadly with our traditional and especially our non-traditional international partners.)

Money is a factor. We have to do this on the cheap. Ambassador Harrison is exploring ways that organizations and individuals can make tax deductible contributions to educational institutions which can be used to fund this project. In addition, I am sure he’ll accept funding from government organizations that would like to advance this concept.

Some will accuse us of trying to field a weapon. This is simply not the case, but we are taking measures to alleviate such concerns. Theresa Hitchens from the Center for Defense Information sits on this project’s advisory board. She has complete access to everything we will be doing. We share her belief that providing transparency into this project is the principle method of preventing baseless accusations.


There you go. Now, once again, you know as much about this project as I do…and I’m leading it!

Please provide comments and lets get the discussion going.




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