30 July 2007
Online - Power (None)
Space Solar Power Blog
And potential demonstration satellite
by Patrick Collins
by Dr. Patrick Collins

Earlier this year the US Department of Defence announced that it would study the concept of power delivery from space, and invited a number of researchers to participate.

Now it has been announced that the first phase of research has been to trawl the Internet--clearly sensible, since there's a great deal of useful information about space solar power ( SSP) on the Web.

The person in charge of the study is Air Force Colonel Michael "Coyote" Smith, chief of the NSSO's future concepts division, and there is a related public discussion board at http://spacesolarpower.wordpress.com.

Smith has spoken of space-based solar power systems operational by 2050 that could provide a few percent of total US energy consumption, perhaps as much as 10% of USA energy by 2060.

In order to achieve this, he envisages developing a 400 KW demonstration satellite in about 2012, followed by 2 MW satellites by 2017. These are feasible targets, if funding is provided.

The tragedy for taxpayers is that, like space tourism, space agencies have chosen not to help develop SSP. Of course, by specifically excluding the two services that could potentially become commercially valuable--energy supply and passenger travel--space agencies have ensured that government spending of $20 billion/year on "space development" has almost no economic value.

For example, under space agencies' "business as usual" attitude, taxpayers would lose another $200 billion by 2017. By comparison, just 10% of that could create a new generation of reusable orbital passenger vehicles AND SSP demonstrator satellites. But space agencies will not use even 1% of their budgets for useful projects like that, let alone 10% or a more sensible proportion.

If SSP development is successful, it could become the second major line of commercial space activity after tourism. As such, it certainly deserves vigorous research funding yet it barely gets any, even compared to other forms of non-fossil energy research.

Energy supply is not the responsibility of the DoD, and defence needs are different from the general public's need for electricity. But seeing the good done by DoD funding of the DC-X (which, needless to say, NASA cancelled as soon as it could get its hands on it), DoD interest in SSP could be a very good thing.
Share |
Patrick Collins 30 July 2007
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.