A recent article in The Economist, 23 items of vital vocabulary you’ll need to know in 2023, was a fascinating list of new and not-so-new science and technology-related words / concepts that are starting to bubble up into everyday news stories and conversations. (If you have a free or paid account on The Economist website, or want to sign up for one, you can read or listen to the article linked above.)
In good company with other vital new vocabulary such as passkeys and post-quantum cryptography, I am happy to note that Space Solar Power has been included near the bottom of the list. It’s exciting to see The Economist authors of this article state that the field of space solar power “… is experiencing a new dawn.”
Space solar power The idea of capturing energy in space using huge solar arrays attached to orbiting satellites, and then beaming it down to Earth as microwaves, has been around since Isaac Asimov proposed it in a science-fiction story in 1941. But the sums have never added up: launching things into space simply costs too much. That could change if launch costs fall far enough, or if new space-based manufacturing techniques emerge, such as mining asteroids for raw materials. And in a high enough orbit, a solar-power satellite could stay in sunlight around the clock, providing a clean, reliable source of power. The European Space Agency sponsored a ground-based demonstration in Germany in 2022 as part of a proposed scheme called Solaris. America, Britain, China and Japan are also funding research in the field, which is experiencing a new dawn.
By Martin Adams, Aryn Braun, Joel Budd, Tom Standage and Vijay Vaitheeswaran
The course author, John Clarkson, contacted me through C-SBSP to make me aware of this online course about space-based solar power. I have purchased the course and completed the 1-1/2 hours of included lectures on a broad range of SBSP-related topics. Many other learning resources are also included.
I have concluded that this course would be worthwhile to anyone seeking a solid introduction into the following topics from the course outline:
Space Based Solar Power (SBSP)
How SBSP works
What are its major advantages and drawbacks of SBSP?
Which nations are developing SBSP and why?
An idea of what it costs to get SBSP into orbit
Rockets, how they work, with some mathematics
Orbital mechanics and how this is relevant to SSP
Wider future market opportunities for SBSP, including direct and indirect markets both new and to be developed
Why SBSP will be an investment in the future
SBSP weapons – Are they feasible? Can we make them safe?
A wider knowledge of the economics of energy and how SBSP can change it
Leader in the space based solar power (SBSP) effort and my inspiration as a citizen-advocate, Dr. Smith’s unfaltering enthusiasm for SBSP in this recent podcast interview continues to be inspiring as well as informative.
In 2007, As Chief, Future Concepts “Dreamworks” out of the National Security Space Office, Col. Smith was one of the team leaders that organized and lead a unique, voluntary group of 170 academic, scientific, technical, legal, and business experts from around the world to compile and publish the architecture study, Space‐Based Solar Power As an Opportunity for Strategic Security. It was this study that rekindled my fascination with SBSP and led me to become a self-appointed advocate of this game-changing technology.
The American four-year political cycle dissipates tremendous amounts of energy and opportunity like so much waste heat. Right, wrong or indifferent, when the first acts of every new administration are to undo the efforts of the previous administration in some made-for-television show of power and bravado, truly important projects like space-based solar power (SBSP), which require long-term planning and commitment, may literally never get off the ground for the citizens of the United States.
Without the authority to enter into international treaties, the private sector probably can’t implement SBSP on its own. Without the incentive to plan and execute outside of the four-year political cycle, the government probably can’t implement SBSP on it’s own.
Does logic suggest that a public-private partnership will be required to develop and implement SBSP for Americans? Do we have to rely on Congress to create that partnership? Spurring Congress to that meaningful action might fall on the shoulders of all Citizens for Space Based Solar Power.
It has long been C-SBSP’s assertion that Earth-found fuels–carbon-based, uranium, thorium, etc.–are all finite natural resources that will one day be more costly to extract than the value of the energy they will yield. On a planetary time scale, or even the time scale of humankind, when that day comes is practically irrelevant. If we are not prepared when that day does inevitably arrive, civilization as we know it, and perhaps even the existence of humankind, will no longer be sustainable.
To once again restate the obvious, the Sun is our virtually unlimited source of abundant, clean energy. The only question that remains is how best to harvest energy from the Sun to provide sustainable baseload power on a planetary scale. In C-SBSP’s opinion, the answer is space-based solar power (SBSP), with the following conditions:
SBSP development and deployment must be done with the agreement, cooperation and participation of all space-faring nations, for the common good of all humankind.
Given the potential century-level project timeline, conventional political cycles and economic models must be superseded.
SBSP must utilize off-planet manufacturing, construction and maintenance.
SBSP must harvest and utilize off-planet materials and resources.
Earth Day 2021 was celebrated with the highlighting of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) efforts to test, develop and implement space-based solar power to eliminate current supply chain risks and provide power directly to U.S. expeditionary forces.
The now ubiquitous Global Positioning System (GPS) was originally developed for military applications and has evolved into a multi-use system that is used every day by the general public. The development of space-based solar power is sure to follow a similar path into peacetime use by the entire planet.
SSPIDR is a series of Integrated Demonstrations and Technology Maturation efforts at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate to address space-based power collection and transmission capabilities.
“I have often suggested that given humanity’s increasing and irreversible dependence on outer space for daily human needs, space will either be safe for all or for none.”
The future of space based solar power is dependent on solving technical, financial and political issues. Could the security of outer space end up being the most difficult issue of all? Perhaps the collective need of all humankind for a virtually unlimited source of clean energy can be the catalyst for geopolitical agreement on a peaceful use of outer space.
The article, published in The Space Review and linked above, summarizes the current positions of the United States, our allies and our competitors in outer space. In a rather ominous summary, the author asks if space will ultimately be safe for all … or for none.
C-SBSP has long believed that space-based solar power (SBSP) hardware should be manufactured in space, away from the deep gravity well of Planet Earth. Perhaps a cislunar application for SBSP will provide the impetus needed for the United States to develop the required space-based mining / refining, space-based manufacturing and space-based assembly technologies.
On Monday, Dec. 9, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine showed off the Space Launch System’s 212-foot-tall rocket core stage that will send our first Artemis mission to space. The core stage, built at America’s “Rocket Factory” – NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility – in New Orleans, is the largest we have produced since the Apollo Program.
The milestone marks a new chapter in the Artemis story as we work to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.
NASA programs spin off technologies that enter and improve our Earthbound lives. I believe the Artemis program will spin off space mining, space manufacturing, and other technologies that will support America’s capabilities to develop and implement scalable and sustainable space-based solar power.
As Citizens for Space Based Solar Power readers know, I believe that space-based solar power is the only viable replacement for fossil fuels that will supply global energy needs as we move into the 22nd century and beyond.