The chicken and the egg: RLVs and space-based solar power
The Space Review
by Taylor Dinerman
Monday, November 19, 2007
Taylor highlights the interdependence of space-based solar power and low cost and reliable access to space. He poses questions about our Technology Readiness Level (TRL) to field a fleet of Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLV). His closing comment strikes a chord of critical importance:
“Any dramatic change in the cost of access to orbit will have huge effects on the world’s military and economic balance of power. The US cannot afford not to be the nation where that breakthrough is made.”
In response to some questions about the feasibility and environmental impact of space-based solar power in a recent Tech Support Forum thread, I posted the following:
Thanks for taking the time to raise some good questions about space-based solar power. Here’s an attempt to provide a reasonable response and additional resources:The feasibility study released by the NSSO addressed these questions which others were asking, too. I agree that hope is not a plan, which is why I believe we need to encourage our political leaders to organize a well defined, long-range plan to acheive energy independence. SBSP offers a long-term solution to fossil fuels, the burning of which release a tremendous amount of CO2. To risk stating the obvious, our fossil fuel reserves are finite and will eventually run out.
The SBSP Study Group found that “to the extent the United States decides it wishes to limit its carbon emissions, SBSP offers a potential path for long-term carbon mitigation.” On page 14 of the study, the supporting statement is:
“Studies by Asakura et al in 2000 suggest that SBSP lifetime carbon emissions (chiefly in construction) are even more attractive than nuclear power, and that for the same amount of carbon emission, one could install 60 times the generating capacity, or alternately, one could replace existing generating capacity with 1/60th the lifetime carbon emission of a coal‐fired plant without CO2 sequestration.”
While energy will probably never be “cheap” again, I think the goal should be “affordable” … and available to everyone.
As far as efforts to develop additional capabilities in space, such as low cost and reliable access to space, in a recent Space Review article, Taylor Dinerman stated “Any dramatic change in the cost of access to orbit will have huge effects on the world’s military and economic balance of power. The US cannot afford not to be the nation where that breakthrough is made.”
I can’t agree more.
The idea of space-based solar power (SBSP), the generation of unlimited electricity from solar power with orbiting collectors and beaming the energy back to earth for distribution and use, has been around since 1968. Due to low fossil fuel costs and high per-payload-pound launch costs at the time, the idea was not financially feasible. The world has changed significantly since then.
From an open source, internet-based collaborative forum and the collective efforts of over 170 contributors, The USG National Security Space Office has issued a 75 page Phase 0 Architecture Feasibility Study titled “Space-Based Solar Power as an Opportunity for Strategic Security”. This study states that “technological challenges are closing rapidly and the business case for creating SBSP is improving with each passing year.”
Today, there are many drivers for the development of renewable (or practically unlimited) energy sources, with national defense, rampant over-population of the planet, quality of life for future generations and concern for the environment all near the top of the list. Yet we seem content to burn the fuels we can gather from our surroundings, much like our ancestral cave-dwellers did for tens of thousands of years before “modern” man’s arrival.
There are links to much more information about Space-Based Solar Power on the Learn More page. Once you have read about this exciting and potentially game-changing technology, go to the Get the Word Out page for suggestions on who to contact and links to assist. If you don’t want to start with a blank e-mail, use some of the text from the Starter Messages page to get started.
However you decide to do it, spread the word about Space-Based Solar Power. Your voice can make a difference for the future of our families … and for our planet.