16 September 2010

Why Not Space Solar Power?

Spacenews has published an OpEd by Don Flournoy on Space Solar Power
Why Not Space Solar Power?
Mon, 13 September, 2010
By Don Flournoy
The 2010 U.S. National Space Policy, which supports a robust and competitive commercial space sector, is good news for those of us working to design and launch the new types of satellites that will collect solar energy in space and deliver it to Earth as a nonpolluting source of electrical power.
Among the goals of President Barack Obama’s National Space Policy is expansion of international cooperation on mutually beneficial space activities to “broaden and extend the benefits of space” and “further the peaceful use of space.”
As members of the National Space Society, the Society of Satellite Professionals International and the Space Energy Group, we believe space, as a shared resource, can best be explored and developed by a partnership of nations and businesses working together.
Since acquiring clean and abundant energy is a common requirement for economic growth and an eventual necessity for the health of all societies, harvesting space solar power is a logical human endeavor when the high frontier is precisely where energy is most plentiful. But achieving success doing large-scale commercial innovation in outer space requires long-range planning, pooling of financial resources, sharing of knowledge and expertise, and the careful framing of a way forward that will earn and sustain the public trust.
In naming the CEOs who will serve on his new advisory board on trade issues, Obama noted in July that the U.S. is on track to double exports in the next five years, and he pointed to some of the ways the American economy is being repositioned to better compete abroad. When adding that announcement to the outcomes of the June summit of the Group of 20 major industrial countries in Canada and recent federal policy statements intimating that (certain) export controls will be relaxed and cooperation in space will be encouraged, it would appear that the U.S. could be entering a new era of openness for international business.
To this end, we would like to see some greater leadership and support given to space solar power development by NASA and the U.S. departments of Energy and Commerce. A helpful first step would be a U.S.-led space solar power feasibility study to which all interested nations are invited to contribute.
In the context of the U.S. National Space Policy, such a feasibility study could lead the way in assessing and promoting “appropriate cost and risk sharing among participating nations in international partnerships.” It would demonstrate U.S. “tangible leadership in space,” leveraging the capabilities of allies while assuring continuing adherence to the U.N. Treaty on Exploration and Use of Outer Space — now signed by 125 states, including China and India — that dictates “nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction” shall not be placed in outer space.
At the International Space Development Conference held in Chicago in May, multiple nations participated in a National Space Society-initiated Solar Power Symposium to examine in depth opportunities and challenges for energy generation in near space. Former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, scientist, aeronautical engineer and proponent of space solar power, addressing the symposium via videoconference, spoke to the need for international cooperation in space. He proposed a multilateral global initiative that could map out for us what needs to be done to bring space solar power to operational reality.
From our perspective, space solar power is a meaningful science, engineering and commercial challenge that deserves our attention and investment. In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, we think it is time for the U.S. to put space solar power on our national energy agenda. At the same time, we must seek opportunities to learn from and participate with Canada, China, India, Japan, the European Union and others taking their first tentative steps to bring space solar energy to Earth.
In a June Times of India commentary on strategic international diplomacy, U.S. Sen. John Kerry expressed support for a partnership with India that would include “the quest for new technologies and fresh ideas for economically viable ways to speed the shift to renewable energy sources.”
We believe that within the mainstream of global science, engineering and environmental management there are game-changing ideas and technologies that await testing. It is time to see some space solar power demonstration projects. Of all the possible alternative energy sources on the near horizon, we believe space solar power is our best chance for addressing the worldwide challenges of climate change, renewable energy and continued economic growth.
Don Flournoy is a professor and editor of the Online Journal of Space Communication (www.spacejournal.org) at Ohio University. This article also reflects the opinions of Robert Bell of the Society of Satellite Professionals International, Mark Hopkins of the National Space Society, Stephan Tennsel of Space Energy AG, and Feng Hsu of the Space Energy Group.

More news and blog entries on the Indo-US SBSP proposal:

India-US space-based solar power plan could solve major energy issues - study
(ADPnews) - Sep 14, 2010 - A space-based solar power (SBSP) programme developed by India and the US could solve the energy security and climate change issues, according to a report by US Air Force lieutenant colonel Peter Garretson.

Garretson, who is on a sabbatical as an international fellow at the institute for defence studies and analyses in New Delhi, considers that the two countries should conduct a feasibility analysis on such a programme, whose aim will be to replace fossil fuel energy with SBSP by 2025. However, in order to work on such a plan, India should first sign the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) document, which the country declined to do earlier, deeming it discriminatory.

In his report, Garretson has included a three-phase plan, which starts with an initial five-year programme costing USD 10 million to USD 30 million for the development of contributing technologies and competent workforce. It is followed by a USD-10-billion investment in the construction of a sub-scale space solar power system over a 10-year period. The concluding stage envisages the establishment of an Indian-US consortium to face energy security and carbon mitigation issues.

Such a SBSP programme could be managed by the US Department of State's Office of Ocean Environment and Science and the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change in India, according to Garretson's report.

Making the Case An Indo-USA Space-Based Solar Power Programme
By Bill Moore
I had a rude awakening this evening. What began as a casual journey into India's space programme -- the reasons will be apparent momentarily -- ended with the sobering realization that along with the sub-continent's explosive economic growth and the rise of the middle class, also comes the apparent need to flex its political muscles militarily in the form of nuclear submarines -- the first launched last year with more on order -- tactical transport aircraft jointly developed with the Russians, and even their own armada of aircraft carriers. And then there's their plan to send men to the moon by 2016.
I've been reading Peter Garretson's 2009 research paper for Indian Defense Studies and Analysis entitled, "Sky's No Limit: Space-based Solar Power, The Next Major Step in the Indo-US Strategic Partnership?" It is a heavily footnoted document of some 174 pages and six appendices. In it, Garretson makes the case that the next step in the United States and India's strategic relationship should be establishment of a "big policy" programme (I'll use the British spelling) to put solar power generation systems in earth orbit. While the paper doesn't go into the technological issues, it does focus on the policy implementation barriers of such a collaboration.
Of course, as a parochial American with only a passing knowledge of Indian food -- which I love -- and Bollywood movies -- which I also find highly entertaining as long as I can keep up with the English subtitles -- I asked myself was India, in fact, technologically capable of making a meaningful contribution to such a programme? Sure, their Chandrayaan-1 moon mission was an impressive achievement, discovering evidence for water, but could they really be expected to lift millions of pounds of components into geosynchronous orbit to build hundreds, even thousands of 5 km width solar arrays?
The answer is, in fact, yes. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has a series of launch vehicles; the largest being the GSLV III, now in development, will be capable of lifting 4,500kg (10,000 lbs) of payload into geosynchronous transfer orbit, putting it on a par with competing American and French launch vehicles. Importantly, it appears they can do it rather cheaply. The Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008 cost just US$79 million.
And why should India or the United States even consider such an initiative, either alone or in partnership? Besides the fact that the Japanese are spending money on their own SBSP program and plan to have a 1 GW platform in orbit by 2030, you mean? Garretson takes pains to explain that it may, in fact, be the only choice the planet has to provide humanity with the clean, pollution-free, electric power it needs, especially in populous nations like India where 50-60% of it citizens will be living in cities by 2039. At present, India, as well as the United States, depends on coal-fired power plants for half of its electricl power generation capacity. It is estimated India's coal reserves will last 80 years, but Garretson points out that at a projected growth rate of just 5 percent a year, those reserves will be exhausted in 45 years; and this doesn't even address the critical problem of water shortages in India, water on which thermoelectric power plants, both fossil fuel and nuclear, are dependent.
So, why not simply build vast solar farms in India's Thar Desert, which stretches across the northwestern states of Rajasthan and Gujara, and occupies more than 2.5 million square kilometers? Efficiency and intermittency are why. All earth-bound solar installations suffer from the same problem: the sun shines on them only part of the day and the atmosphere -- and its associated weather -- reduce their efficiency even further. Space-based solar stations can provide solar power, transmitted back to earth in the form of low-frequency radio waves, 24 hours a day at the sun's maximum power rate of 1330+ watts per meter. At least that's the theory. Those same radio waves have to penetrate the atmosphere and its weather, be converted by circular farms of specially-designed rectenna's with 80 percent-plus efficiency back to electric power and then distributed to urban centers. In a footnote(14) on page 23 of Garretson's paper, it is estimated that only two percent of the energy transmitted down to earth would be lost in the form of heat, and that the type of radio wave being considered will have no or virtually no impact on humans or animals. He notes that, "NASA, DOE, and EPA have conducted extensive experiments to assess if there were ill effects to biological life or the upper atmosphere due to such beams. None of the studies conducted so far suggest that there is any significant detrimental effect."
Assuming all other objections and technical issues can be resolved, what's the potential of SBSP and what's its cost? Citing studies by James Snead and Harry Stine (footnote 10, page 22) Garretson estimates, "the exploitable energy in orbit exceeds not just the electrical demand of the planet today, but the total energy needs of a fully developed planet with over 10 billion people." As for the question of cost, Sky's No Limit estimates that the world currently spends $6 trillion on energy of all forms annually. Most of that energy produces highly undesirably pollution and climate change, which SBSP would not. Further, SBSP would make no environmental demands on the planet's freshwater supply.
The idea would certainly seem to have merit. Imagine an EV world where all our motor vehicles are powered by electricity transmitted from thousands of orbiting solar stations. However, moving such a project from the dreamer's stage to the schemer's stage will prove the first major obstacle to overcome. If nothing else, Sky's No Limit makes thought-provoking reading. It certainly opened my eyes to the state of technological development taking place in India beyond Tata Nanos, Revas and Hero electric bicycles.

New Space Energy Newsletter:
It reviews the IDSA-CFR paper on Indo-US Space Solar Power cooperation.

Introduction of Peter Garretson´s New SBSP Paper: "Sky´s No Limit"

Hot off the press, Space Energy is proud to announce the publication of the latest paper from one of the original SBSP `caballeros´, Peter Garretson, entitled “Sky’s No Limit: Space-Based Solar Power, the Next Major Step in the Indo-US Strategic Partnership?”

Referred to as IDSA Occasional Paper No. 9, this paper provides a policymaker's overview of a highly scalable, revolutionary, renewable energy technology, Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), and evaluates its utility within the context of the Indo-US strategic partnership.  After providing an overview of the concept and its significance to the compelling problems of sustainable growth, economic development, energy security and climate change, it evaluates the utility of the concept in the context of respective Indian and US political and energy-climate trajectories.  The paper concludes that a bilateral initiative to develop Space-Based Solar Power is highly consistent with the objectives of the Indo-US strategic partnership, and ultimately recommends an actionable three-tiered programme to realize its potential.

Peter Garretson's credentials are unparalleled.  He was a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), International Fellow in India, and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi.  He is an active duty Air Force officer on sabbatical as an Air Force Fellow.  He was previously the Chief of Future Science and Technology Exploration for Headquarters Air Force, Directorate of Strategic Plans and Programs, and is a former DARPA Service Chiefs’ Intern, and former Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Service Academy Research Associate.  He is a published author on Space Grand Strategy, and is a recipient of the National Space Society’s (NSS) Space Pioneer Award.

Peter Garretson´s past IDSA papers can be found here.

A presentation made by the author of the IDSA-CFR Report can be downloaded from here:


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