A Major Milestone for Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP)

by on September 12, 2008 · 23 comments

At a press conference this morning at the National Press club in Washington, the Space Solar Alliance for Future Energy (SSAFE) announced a milestone demonstration of the critical technology enabling SBSP:  long-distance, solar-powered wireless power transmission.  The demonstration project, led by NASA veteran John C. Mankins, demonstrated microwave power transmission between two Hawaiian islands 148 kilometers apart, more than the distance from the surface of Earth to the boundary of space.  Although SBSP satellites would ultimately operate at much higher altitudes in the geosynchronous orbit (35,786 km AMSL), Mankins has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of long-distance energy transmission in principle.

Those of you who haven’t “cut the cord” to television (as I did about 5-6 years ago) may be interested to watch a special episode of Discovery Project Earth entitled “Orbital Powerplant) that will debut tonight at 10 pm with reruns on September 13 at 2am and noon.

This video provides more background on SBSP (until recently known as “Space Solar Power”):

My good friend Col. “Coyote” Smith has begun exploring some of the basic regulatory issues surrounding SBSP satellites, and the National Space Society has collected a wealth of materials on SBSP here.

Those feeling particularly adventurous may way to check out the other space-related episode in the Discovery Project Earth series “Space Sunshield” (shown 1 hr before each of the timeslots mentioned above) about the idea developed by NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden to address global climate change:

erect a shield at the Earth-Sun L1 point, about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth in the direction of the Sun. A shield about 1,600 kilometers across would be sufficient to block two percent of the incident solar radiation, decreasing the solar “constant” and thus solving the global warming problem.

Pete’s sun-shield concept may remind some Simpsons-savvy readers of Montgomery Burns’ most dastardly scheme:

Smithers: Well, Sir, you’ve certainly vanquished all your enemies: the Elementary School, the local tavern, the old age home… you must be very proud.
Mr. Burns: [stuffing money into his wallet] No, not while my greatest nemesis still provides our customers with free light, heat and energy. I call this enemy…the sun. Since the beginning of time man has yearned to destroy the sun. I will do the next best thing… block it out!

While unrelated to SBSP and certainly a lot farther out in terms of market feasibility, Pete’s sunshield concept is certainly intriguing.  But don’t let Discovery’s grouping of the two issues confuse you:  SBSP is an idea whose time has come and which could become profitable (even absent government subsidies) in the next decade or two.

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