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.
Ian Cash, of SICA Design Ltd, presented a new Solar Power Satellite (SPS) concept during the Space Solar Power Workshop of the IEEE WiSEE conference held in Montreal last month. Ian’s presentation is linked below. Special thanks to Elisa Shebaro of PowerSOL, who attended this conference and brought the CASSIOPeiA presentation to my attention.
The CASSIOPeiA Solar Power Satellite is “based on the principle of wavelength-scale modular integration of all major functions, from solar collection through to beam-formation.” With no moving parts, CASSIOPeiA’s patent-pending phased array permits beam steering through 360 degrees.
The ultralight helical structure maintains a constant solar collecting area directly facing the Sun. Stowed as an integrated and highly compact package, this concept offers “the enticing possibility of a fully functional SPS deployed as a single payload.” The full CASSIOPeiA white paper can be read here.
Dr. Seyed (Reza) A. Zekavat, Michigan Tech, and Darel Preble, Space Solar Power Institute, Georgia Tech, co-chair the Space Solar Power Workshop as part of the annual IEEE WiSEE Conference. Papers and presentations from recent Space Solar Power Workshops can be seen at the bottom of Dr. Zekavat’s faculty page, here.
As one of five research proposals selected for year-long studies, NASA will study the Colorado School of Mines’s proposal, “21st Century Trends in Space-Based Solar Power Generation and Storage.” Although previous NASA studies of the space-based solar power concept have not resulted in any meaningful action, perhaps this time will be different. It is at least encouraging to learn that NASA is still interested in this potentially game-changing idea.
“Our space technology work is focused on providing new capabilities for robotic and human exploration of the solar system, but we are also here to help enable new commercial markets or enterprises,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA. “The results of these studies provide insights into the potential economic impacts of new space-based capabilities and applications which in turn helps guide our investments in technology development.”
Jeremy Hsu’s article, NASA Wants to Know Cost of Space Solar Power, brought this September 23, 2017 NASA announcement to my attention. I left the following perhaps not-so-humble opinion in the comment section of Jeremy’s article:
IMHO: Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) will be our planet’s main source of energy at some point in the 21st century. The initial research and investments will be funded by a public-private partnership, with similarities to the transcontinental railroad and communication satellite projects.
I agree that high launch costs are one of the biggest hurdles to a successful implementation and scale-up of SBSP. Because of this, space-based mining and manufacturing technologies should precede, or at least parallel SBSP development.
Fossil fuels are a finite resource.Only the future point in time at which fossil fuels will be more costly to extract than they are worth is in question. For all practical purposes of humankind, energy from the sun is an infinite resource.
“It can’t be done!” is a self-fulfilling and self-defeating stance, especially when it is fueled by an inordinate amount of self-confidence.
All the best,
Citizens for Space Based Solar Power