Are you thinking that this post is a reality check on the viability of the space based power system? Nope. It’s a reality check of the stories in the press about what is in the report so you and I can learn something worthwhile.

The report is titled “Space-Based Solar Power As an Opportunity for Strategic Security” a commissioned report to the Director, National Security Space Office by the SBSP Study Group lead by Col. Coyote Smith (really).

There are two views coming into the study. The Department of Defense view is as a resource for military activities in the first instance and secondly as a strategic means to reduce tensions over energy supplies that put the US and its allies at risk. The other view is the public and private part of the investments and benefits from continuing to a likely construction of a facility. As the technologies change the report serves the most useful function to compare the probabilities now to the idea’s potential in the technology at the idea’s inception and then look down the road to see what technologies will need more research and development to establish a facility in the future. Things are very different now in the various technology fields to put a facility in orbit and get the power on line.

With that in mind rather than the press stories, the report does offer anyone with a good high school reading level and an interest in plentiful energy supplies one of the best outlooks into a technology we’ve seen all year. Running some 75 pages with the opening bits and acknowledgments at the end its still a well-written article that deserves a close look. See:

The high points:

1. Current technology puts the feasibility within a decade rather than say 50 years out.
2. Its clean. Completely inexhaustible. And huge.
3. Likely the only way, other than fusion to meet worldwide energy demand.
4. The power can be utilized planet wide.
5. The business case isn’t closed and the report offers that the DOD or other government entity should proceed through proof of concept to ready commercialization.
6. The facility would kick the next stage of the space age, which has been mired since the conclusion of the Apollo Program (man landing on the moon).
7. A facility in stationary orbit offers energy worldwide, as the power would be continuous as the planet revolves below.
8. Its not being seen as a military project, rather the military can be counted on as an early adopter.
9. The report specifically does not recommend that the Department of Defense take the control or lead for further development, rather suggests that government lead by retiring risks, being an early customer and proving the economics.
10. A facility would put America in the lead for power (displacing unreliable oil producing countries) with a reduction in petroleum importing and a new export product.

There are about 35 pages of text net of the executive summary, study objective and the appendixes. The appendixes are worth a close look as they give many details that the report cites.

Most interesting and makes part of the case most adroitly is found on page 24 where a graph compares six technology issues as of 1977 and 2007. A lot has changed and changed quite a lot.

With the news stories now out with the glaring headlines about the military and a space station sending electricity to the surface behind us a careful review by interested citizens is in order. I admit I read every word and was quite interested to read how the study came to be and the people involved and the reasons they have for helping. The conclusions and recommendations based on the report and its appendixes are compelling and deserve support. Furthermore we have a space station in orbit now and the early demonstration work can take place quickly.

Overlooked in this is the inevitable technological seeding out into the economy at large. Although attention is judiciously accorded to a business perspective this is overlooked. More over the prospect that the US would become a net exporter again is a strong incentive to most Americans who wish to “buy back” their country.

You haven’t seen this word from me – endorsed – but here it is used with enthusiasm. Extraplanatory solar collection and fusion are the only true long-term solutions in our current catalog of alternatives.


19 Comments so far

  1. Crumpley on October 17, 2007 2:52 PM

    Great report. One big question (and I haven’t finished reading the whole thing yet) revolves around the need for frequent/reliable transport to/from orbit. This is a very energy-intensive proposition involving tons and tons of fossil fuels (propellant). There is no (current) electrical orbital propulsion, so the entire project might need heavy fossil-fuel inputs to work. Meaning: it might not work given our current/future energy crunch. Thoughts?

  2. Brian Westenhaus on October 17, 2007 3:35 PM

    Its not covered in great detail in the report. What differs from the past is the reduction of trips, personnel and the lifted mass. I am not up to speed on the petroleum needed to make hydrazine at this time. As for return visits while in operation it seems that robotics would be used more than human personnel. The shuttle record to date means most lift would be heavy lift rocket. As for “might not work” the first one or so will seem outrageously expensive but averaged over many facilities would get cheap. Morel likely the investment dollars will dry up before any engineering or propellants issues signal a stop.

  3. Scott E. Shjefte on December 24, 2007 4:32 PM

    20 years ago I co-wrote a report “Peacefull Uses of Outer Space” for the United Nations that gave insight into the practical nature of putting up solar power satelites to beam cheap power to anywhere on Earth. It would be ironic if the Military did it first. It was practical to do it back then and it is still practical and extremely economical to do it now.


  4. Michael Thomas on July 26, 2008 10:11 AM

    Space-Based Microwave Power

    If not the US, I’m sure other contries will develop it.

  5. Business office supplier on January 30, 2010 8:49 PM

    It’s good to read a quality article for once.

  6. Solar Power Cost on May 10, 2010 3:13 AM

    You say its clean but how much carbon emissions are created by getting the solar panels into space? And how much money will this cost? Sure this is very very expensive and that money would be better spent on energy efficiency measures?

  7. Marren on August 5, 2010 1:15 PM

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  11. Maury Markowitz on April 6, 2011 12:36 PM

    This will never, ever, happen. At least not for any commercial use.

    A space-based power system gets five times as much sunlight as the same panel in Earth. It will lose about 1/2 of that on the way down, and another 50% due to the shorter lifetime in orbit (12 yrs vs. 30 or so). So in the end a SBSPS gets maybe 20% more electricity before it dies.

    So now we have to decide whether or not to put the panel in space or on the ground, knowing that the space advantage is on the other of 20%. The economic value of electrical power is very low, for baseload its around 3 cents a kWh. So the conclusion is inescapable:

    ($ of electricity from space – $ of electric) << launch costs

    There is no way to escape this problem. I suggest everyone try it, and run some numbers on their own.

  12. Dave Bertagna on May 23, 2011 10:42 AM

    Good! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

  13. Maury Markowitz on May 23, 2011 4:47 PM

    Sure Dave, you can find longer versions on my blog too. Feel free to use what you like.

    As I said above, I think there’s no escaping the math, unless launch costs fall well below $10 a pound.

    Given that it’s about $8/pound just for the electricity for a space elevator, you can see just how difficult/impossible that is.

  14. Maury Markowitz on August 3, 2011 10:20 AM

    Hi Dave,

    I’ve written a “more direct” version of the statements here:

  15. Isis Biehl on September 13, 2011 7:52 PM

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