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Given the potential century-level project timeline, conventional political cycles and economic models must be superseded.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.
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.
NASA’s new overarching goal should be to lead the joint public-private development and deployment of space-based solar power as a baseload power source. It’s a goal that would encompass many other technologies (non-rocket launch methods, AI-based robotic assembly in space, mining of lunar and NEO resources, lunar base operations, energy conversion and transmission methods, etc.) and inspire young people get advanced educations and be a part of making the planet a better place for everyone, much like the Apollo program did.
The unique aspect of NASA adopting space-based solar power as an overarching goal is that the long-term result would be a revenue positive system owned and operated by the United States of America. We would become a net exporter of clean, virtually unlimited energy.
Prohibitive launch costs are cited as the primary roadblock to space-based solar power today. Let’s come up with an elegant solution, such as a mass driver launch system initially powered by terrestrial solar power and eventually powered by the first space-based solar power satellite. It’s a positive upward spiral. The more power available, the more payload put in orbit and assembled into additional satellites resulting in more power available … and repeat. Once such a self-proliferating system harvests more energy than it uses, the excess energy can be directed into existing or new distribution grids.