Space Solar Power Plants? Orbital Solar Power Plants Possible in Decade or Two

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Orbital Space Solar Power Plants Possible in Decade or Two

Orbital space Solar power plants? That may sound like science fiction, but according to a study group of Paris-based International Academy of Astronautics claims. They now possess the technology to make the project technically feasible within a decade or two according to the study.

The International Academy of Astronautics is headed by Madhavan Nair, the former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization. The study was claimed as the first broadly based international assessment of the potential paths to development of these plants in space that would collect solar energy and deliver back to Earth through a wireless power transmission, which was first invented, planned, and tested by genius Nikola Tesla and proven in a test at Colorado Springs in 1899.

The economic feasibility of these types of plants could be achieved in 30 years or less without laying down a road map or developing a specific architecture. According to John Mankins, a veteran of 25 years at NASA and the agencies former head of concepts who led the study; “It is clear that solar energy delivered from space could play a tremendously important role in meeting the global need for energy during the 21st century.”

The study determined that government financing would more than likely be needed to get the concept to market. They theorized that funding from private sector investors would not go forward without any government assistance due to the “economic uncertainties” of both development and demonstration of the plants, as well as the time lags between the two.

They called for a research project funded by both private and government investors to determine the exact economic viability of the concept, brought about due to our reluctance to shift away from our current dependence on fossil fuels which contribute to global warming and global pollution. They study itself did not give any estimates of what the potential costs would be to complete the project however.

The whole space solar power project is being touted by the agency as a potential long-term energy solution for our planet with “essentially zero” outer space environmental impact, According to the National Space Society, which is an advocacy group that held a news conference on Monday in Washington to publicize the International Academies 248 page final report on the matter.

In it’s executive summary, the necessity of the study was highlighted:

“It is crucial for the world to identify, research, develop, demonstrate, commercialize and deploy affordable and sustainable new energy sources. This need is driven by various factors; three of the most important are: (1) demand for energy to enable economic growth for a still-increasing global population, (2) concerns regarding the long-term accumulation in Earth’s atmosphere of fossil fuel-derived greenhouse gases, and (3) the prospect that during the coming decades annual production of petroleum (and possibly other fossil fuels) will peak and begin to decline.”

“Continuing economic progress will require a four-fold increase in annual energy use by the end of the century. If carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into the atmosphere are to be constrained during the same span, by 2100 some 90% of all energy used must be from renewable or nuclear sources. Notwithstanding optimistic claims to the contrary, it does not appear that there is at present a solution to these concurrent challenges.”

Space Solar Power Plants Project

The whole philosophy behind the report and it’s findings is to place one plant into space, which would be followed by several more, and finally many more solar powered satellites into a geosynchronous orbit high over the equator. Each satellite could be as wide as several kilometers across (one kilometer equals 0.6 miles), and the satellites would collect energy from the sun for up to 24 hours a day, which in comparison to Earth based solar power plants which only can provide half of that at best, to turn the suns energy into electricity. The suns energy would be converted to electricity on the satellite and then beamed down to Earth by large microwave transmitting antennas or lasers and then sent into the power grid where needed.

Of course, with any project or new technology, especially one of this magnitude there will be skeptics. They deem the concept a nonstarter, or at least until the initial costs of placing commercial power plants into orbit drops by a factor of 10 or more. However, with new technologies in low cost expendable space vehicles they could develop a pilot project to use as a demonstration platform as big as the 400 ton International Space Station could go ahead. A moderate-scale demonstration will be tens of billions of dollars less than previously thought as a result of not needing the costly, reusable launch vehicles early on in the project, according to Mankins, who is the president of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC, a California consultancy. Mankins stated that in reference to the new projected costs of the pilot project that “this was a really important finding.” Mankins company was also awarded an contract with NASA for a little south of 100k to investigate space-based solar power plant options.

The concept of harnessing the suns energy in space has been studied on and off for nearly 40 years, including studies done by both the U.S. Energy Department and NASA. During the past decade interest has grown internationally in fear of the fact that fossil fuels will reach and past peak and start to decline in the near future. Economic development worldwide is also expected to substantially raise energy needs and raise per capita demand for energy. Concern over greenhouse gases and global warming are also high on peoples minds, at least internationally at this point in time.

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