14 November 2010

Press picks up NSS-Kalam Initiative

Now the President Obama has left, and provided an impressive speech to parliament  and the two countries produced an affirming Joint Statement:

The Obama administration is definitely on the right track with India, going all the right vectors on Space, Defense, Climate Change, Nuclear and Renewable energy, and it is unfortunate the administration was not bold enough to tie it all together and include the truly visionary concept of Space-Based Solar Power.  Perhaps some smart individual will put it on the 2011 Civil Space Joint Working Group.

The news of the Kalam-NSS initiative is getting out, appearing online in a number of important places:
NSS-Kalam Energy Initiative
The Wall Street Journal: http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2010/11/08/india-digest-india-america-join-hands-to-harness-solar-power/
Times of India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-America-join-hands-to-harness-solar-power/articleshow/6886049.cms
MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40092675/
Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20101109/sc_space/undernewplansatellitestobeamsolarpowerdownfromspace
Kurzweil AI: http://www.kurzweilai.net/former-president-of-india-wants-to-beam-energy-from-space
Aviation Week: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?id=news/asd/2010/11/05/04.xml&channel=space
NASA Watch/SpaceRef: http://www.spaceref.com/calendar/calendar.html?pid=6202
Parabolic Arc: http://www.parabolicarc.com/2010/11/04/kalamnss-initiative-aimed-producing-cheap-clean-power-space/
Deccan Herald: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/109675/kalam-nss-initiative-tap-solar.html
Renewable Power News: http://www.renewablepowernews.com/archives/1945
The Space Review: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1721/1
Space Politics: http://www.spacepolitics.com/2010/11/07/us-and-india-in-space-and-space-solar-power/
Ecopoliticology: http://ecopolitology.org/2010/11/10/us-india-launch-space-based-solar-energy-initiative/
Energy Matters: http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=1163
Third Age: http://www.thirdage.com/news/india-and-us-harvest-solar-power-space_11-7-2010
The Center for New American Security: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/naturalsecurity/2010/11/us-india-cooperation-space-next-frontier.html

An important commentary comes from one of India's space experts, Ajey Lele at IDSA:

From: http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/KalamNSSIndianAmericanEnergyInitiative_alele_091110
Kalam-NSS Indian-American Energy Initiative
Ajey Lele

November 9, 2010
During his maiden visit to India, President Barack Obama has cleared the air on the issue of ‘outsourcing of jobs to Indians’. He also announced that various deals with India worth US$ 10 billion are likely to generate about 50,000 jobs in the US in the coming few years, giving indications that India is actually not a job snatcher but a job creator! While the tempo of the Obama visit has been raised in India by highlighting various aspects of Indo-US relations, one silent revolution which is expected to generate many jobs in both countries has almost gone unnoticed. On 4 November 2010, in a press conference at Washington D.C., details of the ‘Kalam-NSS Indian-American Energy Initiative’ – a joint US-Indian endeavour intended to build clean space-based solar power satellites – were announced.

Interestingly, this unique initiative is not an initiative between the two countries, nor it is a commercial venture. It also does not follow a public-private partnership model. It is a plan formulated by a former head of state and a US-based non-profit organization – India's former President Dr. A.P.J. Kalam and the US National Space Society (NSS). This initiative is important not only because it is expected to offer alternative energy solutions, but the technology promises a cheap and clean energy source. Particularly, with Mr. Obama announcing the end of the technology denial regime against Indian entities such as DRDO and ISRO, it is expected that this endeavour would progress without any ‘administrative’ glitches.

The Kalam-NSS Indian-American Energy Initiative is being conceptualized by individuals with vast experience in the field of space technologies as well as policy planning. Dr. Kalam is a rocket scientist of repute and has vast experience in developing various major projects for the Indian state. The co-principal investor from the United States, Mr. John Mankins, is president of the Space Power Association and a former exploration chief technologist at NASA. In this project there is no direct involvement of NASA. However, there is some support visible from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The co-principal investigator is Mr. T.K. Alex who is currently the Director of ISRO’s Satellite Centre and was the leader of India’s first moon mission, the Chandrayan-1.

According to Dr. Kalam it could take around 15 years for the completion of this project. India with its proven expertise in launching satellites could help to bring down the cost of satellites. It may be premature to talk with certitude about the cost effectiveness of this project. However, the group is convinced that space solar power would be affordable in the long run. It has been claimed that the cost of energy could be 10 cents per kilowatt hour (approximately Rs. 4.30). Electricity generated from coal, believed to be the cheapest form of energy, costs around Rs 3.30 per kilowatt hour.

Global electricity demand is expected to increase by 87 per cent around 2035. It is believed that by 2050 the world may not be able to fulfil overall energy requirements in spite of using every available energy resource. Proponents of this technology and the initiative like Mr. Mark Hopkins, the CEO of the National Space Society, view this as a “game-changing technology that addresses energy security, sustainable development, climate change, and multinational cooperation.” The concept of Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) or Space Solar Power (SSP) is a four decade old concept. Since the early 1970s scientists have been working on this concept with varying degrees of success. Lack of finding and political will is the main reason for inadequate development of this technology, which involves the collection of solar power from space and its use on earth. For this purpose the energy would be trapped in space with the help of satellites and would be subsequently transferred to earth. Catching energy in space is important to reduce the losses suffered in the process of its transfer to earth. For this purpose the space system converts sunlight to microwaves outside the earth’s atmosphere.

To decide the basic roadmap for this work, on May 18-22, 2011 a bilateral conference is scheduled to be held at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama where top scientists from both countries are expected to debate this issue in detail. It is expected that the first phase of this initiative could last for one year during which a preliminary pre-feasibility study would be carried out. The second phase which could last for more than half a decade would involve a range of targeted technology and engineering demonstrations on ground. The penultimate state is expected to deliver the pilot project and the last stage involves completion and implementation of the actual project where the common man as well industry start using the SSP. The details of this project are available at the web link http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/KALAM-NSS-Initiative.pdf.

Countries like Japan have already taken a lead in this field. They have identified both near term and long term objectives for developing the SSP Programme. It is expected that they may succeeded in developing an operational system within the next five or more years. It is important for the US and India to engage Japan in this field.

But developing mega projects like the SSP are mostly viewed with mistrust by many. It is felt that successful completion of such ‘ostentatious’ ideas is not possible and more importantly such projects are huge money-spinners. In the past various inventions/ideas have been held back because of lack of public and political support. However, the energy needs of 21st century demand scrutiny of every possible option and space based solar power offers one such.

See also discussion here at Defence Forum of India:

Now Obama was expected to
The United States and India will announce during Obama's trip the creation of a center for joint cooperation on developing clean energy, including solar power and biofuels, according to two people familiar with the plan.

Excerpts from: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1721/1

Mankins said the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) is completing a study on SBSP, due out next spring. That study is looking at three SBSP concepts with the idea of not transmitting power to a single fixed point on the Earth, as was planned in the original 1970s concepts, but instead be able to transmit to any number of locations “in order to satisfy optimum market conditions.”

The finding of the study group—still undergoing peer review, Mankins said—is that with a new technology roadmap a pilot SBSP system could be relatively affordable. “Within 10 to 15 years, a pilot plant, delivering megawatts of power, could in fact be realizable within a finite amount of budget,” he said, with “finite” meaning $5–10 billion. “It’s not trivial—it’s a big effort—but it’s not an impossible amount of money.”

A James Webb Space Telescope-class investment by the international community, both industry and space agencies, could in fact realize a subscale but operationally scalable multi-megawatt solar power satellite demo within 7 to 15 years,” he concluded.
For far less it may be possible to demonstrate one of the key technologies of SBSP, transmitting power from space to the Earth. Asked how much it would cost to fly a satellite that could beam a token amount of power—enough to perhaps power a single light bulb—Mankins said that a “quick and dirty demo” using off-the-shelf technology could cost $1–10 million. A more robust demonstration using technologies on the path towards larger SBSP systems would cost somewhat more: $20–50 million.
However, just as technologies have advanced during the last three decades, so have the capabilities—and energy needs—of other nations, opening up opportunities for cooperation not envisioned three decades ago.

One example formally announced at a Washington, DC, press conference on Thursday by the National Space Society is the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative. The project is a joint venture that plans to bring together American and Indian experts to discuss technologies associated with SBSP at a bilateral meeting planned for next May in Huntsville, Alabama, in conjunction with the International Space Development Conference, the annual conference of the NSS.

What gives this effort added prominence is one of the Indian supporters of the effort: Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former president of India. Kalam worked on missile and space programs in India before becoming president in 2002, earning the nickname “Missile Man of India”. He promoted India’s space efforts during his five-year tenure as president and is now lending his name and interest to this new effort.

I have been proposing that large missions, like bringing space solar power to the Earth, would need the combined efforts of nations,” Kalam said, speaking by phone from India. His interest in SBSP, he said, came from a need to meet India’s growing energy requirements while moving away from fossil fuels. “We need to graduate from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.”

While the idea of cooperation between the two countries on space solar power has been brought up in the past (see “Should India and the US cooperate on space solar power?”, The Space Review, June 8, 2009), the concept was discussed in detail more recently in an August 2010 white paper by Peter Garretson, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who had a fellowship at India’s Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. In the paper, he outlined the concept of solar power from space and how it might serve to advance the strategic partnership between the United States and India.

In the paper, Garretson calls for a three-stage joint effort for development of an SBSP system, after an initial (“stage 0”) creation of a bilateral framework: a technology development study, development of a demonstration system, and then full-fledged production. While the final stage would cost tens of billions of dollars, Garretson wrote that the technology study stage could be done for only $10–30 million over about five years.

Why should the two countries cooperate on SBSP, though? At Thursday’s press conference, NSS CEO Mark Hopkins noted that the two countries have “so much in common”, ranging from a shared colonial history to strong public interest in space. Both also have growing energy requirements, especially in India as that populous nation modernizes, and SBSP could meet those needs and more. “India and the United States can become major net exporters of energy,” he said.

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