by John Clarkson BA(Hons) MSc
Executive Producer, Perimetrfilms
The Bridge towards a New Space Age?
To make the space industry viable its technology has to be economic. It has to be cost effective, that is, comparable with current technologies. Finally, it has to be a worthwhile contributor to all humans. It must be scalable, ad infinitum. It must be sustainable, over a long-period of time.
Till now, satellite communications have met most of these criteria. Everyone who can afford a smart phone can now buy and sell their commodities. The same cannot be said to be true for the Moon Landings. It was an inspirational series of events, but unsustainable and before its time.
I believe that Space based Solar Power could become the bridge to a new solar based civilization. I’m so convinced by this that I’m making a documentary film about it (see below). It will be driven by a number of crises: perfects storms that oddly compliment each other, even though one is the cause of the other!
The Coming Crises
As the population grows the demand for energy rises. On average it rises by 7% a year since 1950. If you understand basic maths, you will know that this is a doubling time of 10 years. (Every percentage rate rise over time is exponential growth!) Humans have required an increase in fossil fuels of double the amount every 10 years. This is unsustainable for non-renewable resources like oil, gas or coal. By 2100 all of these are predicted to be uneconomic to extract in any great amounts to sustain our population numbers by then.
Climate Change is the most pressing problem of our age. Politicians want a single answer, that is simple to sell to the people. Instead they have conflicting solutions. Everything from ‘clean coal’ to solar farms are being touted. Behavioural changes such as mass veganism won’t work. This complexity and corruption means nothing gets done.
Ground-based renewable energy is inadequate to do the job. Solar power is limited by day and night. It has to use batteries if small scale. People complain about the solar farms and wind farms spoilingt their view. Wind farms have gone offshore increasing the costs to repair and service them. Wave, tide and hydro technology are limited by geographic constraints. The complex and diverse nature of this technology provides too much choice for politicians brought up in an age of oil.
Replacing oil, gas and coal is the environmentalists dream. Can we find a safe alternative? It must meet our needs now and in the future. It mustn’t take up too much land. It should not disturb or destroy nature and habitats. What if a new space race could provide this technology
Space Solar Power (SBSP or SSP)
By constrast, SBSP main drawbacks are payload costs. SBSP has to be light, or built in space to be economic. It also needs re-useable rockets or spaceplanes to make it viable. That is one major reason why we haven’t done it before.
Elon Musk complains about its double conversion of energy. That is light is converted to microwaves or lasers. This is beamed to Earth, and converted into electrical energy. There are losses through the Earth’s atmosphere due to water vapour or in the case of lasers clouds. These though are relatively small losses because SBSP is always on, 24 hours a day.
Estimates show SBSP will be able to transmit energy back to Earth at the same price as power stations run on gas. Even with sceptical assessments, its Net Energy is 4:1, well above normal ground-based Solar Power .
- How residents on the Moon could utilise Space Solar Power
- How Martian explorers might use space solar power
- How Space Solar Power might power solar sails and tiny robots in our quest to explore the galaxy
WHAT TO KNOW MORE…
These are a list of some of the blogs I will write over the next few weeks.
The Moon – SBSP base and user?
In the next few decades humans may return to the Moon. China and India may lead the way because their economies are growing rapidly. Other countries might find themselves left behind.
The Moon provides an opportunity to harness the power of the sun from orbit. The Shimizu Company are planning to create a Lunar Ring and use the Moon as a based for SBSP. They can power the moon and the Earth using this technology.
Mars – Powered by SBSP?
Mars like the moon is a very hostile place. Getting to it without brain damage is a major problem for humans. The plan is to pre-build the infrastructure for life. Then send astronauts to live on Mars. These will be the pioneers. Then as time progresses colonists will arrive. These new inhabitats will trigger a growing demand for energy.
To meet this demand, SBSP might help in two-ways. Firstly, by placing the solar panels in orbit it avoids the dust storms. Secondly, it reduces the cost of landing the panels on Mars. An underground Martian colony would collect this energy day and night.
SBSP and Solar Electric Propulsion
Another application for Space based Solar Power is to send probes to the nearest star. Grant Logan in the late 1980s suggested using SBSP as a means for generating energy for a laser. This would be used to propel a solar sail. Solar sail spacecraft would travel across interplanetary space. This could be used to send Nano-bots, mining drones and astronauts to the planets or asteroid belt.
VALERY DANKO DISCOVERS ENERGY FROM SPACE – a documentary about SBSP
I am making a documentary about Space based Solar Power. For our Trailer and photos, please see https://perimetrfilms.com/ Please subscribe. Also join our facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/valerydankodiscovers/ The documentary stars Valery Danko, the journalist and TV presenter.
Bibliography & References
Caltech (2019) https://www.spacesolar.caltech.edu/
Elon Musk on SBSP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMsLj8L9Gpo
The Future of Energy College www.futureofenergycollege.com
Interviews of Paul Jaffe, Professor Naoki Shinohara and Michael Loweth as part of Valery Danko Discovers Energy from Space, in production.
John C Mankins (2014) The Case for Space based Solar Power, Virginia Edition Publishing.
Richard Heinberg (2012) The End of Growth: Adapting to our new economic reality, Clairview Books
Vaclav Smil (2015) Power Density, MIT Press