Power from Space
Space Solar Power is a fascinating idea. It involves putting satellites into space, covered with solar panels. These satellites would catch the energy from the sun -- undiluted by atmosphere or night -- and beam it down to earth. The idea has been around since the 1960's, but has yet to actually become feasible.
Still, recent studies have indicated it might be possible to do this economically in the near future.
A special study group of the National Research Council (NRC) has taken a new look at NASA's current SSP efforts. Their findings are in the NRC report: Laying the Foundation for Space Solar Power - An Assessment of NASA's Space Solar Power Investment Strategy.
While not advocating or discouraging SSP, the advisory team said "it recognizes that significant changes have occurred since 1979 that might make it worthwhile for the United States to invest in either SSP or its component technologies." The study urges a sharper look at perceived and/or actual environmental and health risks that SSP might involve.
The NRC study group singled out several technological advances relevant to SSP:
- Improvements have been seen in efficiency of solar cells and production of lightweight, solar-cell laden panels;
- Wireless power transmission tests on Earth is progressing, specifically in Japan and Canada;
- Robotics, viewed as essential to SSP on-orbit assembly, has shown substantial improvements in manipulators, machine vision systems, hand-eye coordination, task planning, and reasoning; and
- Advanced composites are in wider use, and digital control systems are now state of the art - both developments useful in building an SSP.
Now it appears that the Pentagon is interested in doing some trials as early as 2015.
"A first demonstrator project in, say, the year 2015 might power a military base, be capable of sending power to disaster areas, or transmit energy to troops abroad. The cost of petroleum fuel, not only money but lives lost in wars fought over oil, is a big driver of the Pentagon’s interest in space solar power. [Col. M.V. Smith] has gone from skeptic to enthusiast since the study began. ..."
Sounds good to me.