Saturday, June 09, 2007

You are my Sunshine...

Ok, I'll admit my first reaction to this article in wired:

Military Target: Solar Beaming Sats

was, Oh no, not again (apologies to Douglas Adams). Those of you who have been following the Cynics since we debuted April 2006 will recall a previous blog post on why Space Solar Power is a kool-aid effort of the highest order.

But believe it or not, I am actually partly heartened by this latest push to SSPS.

Why? Because, as many of you have heard me say (or write) before, I am firmly of the belief that only the DoD has the budget, the operational experience, and the political clout to develop truly cheap, reliable, reusable access to space. Not NASA, and not the toy spaceships being developed by the private sector.

But if the DoD does decide that they have a case for development of such technologies (hypersonic transports, responsive space access, etc), then the trickle down to the commercial and private sector will follow - as it has for many other technologies we take for granted now (including GPS). But only the DoD would have the resources to pull off a massive 10km geostationary solar power station - and even then they'd only be able to do it if they had first created a spacelift capability that doesn't exist today (and, of course, had developed the experience to do major on-orbit assembly operations amongst other things).

Of course the Military Industrial Complex (read: big aerospace) would LOVE this kind of model, which means it would be able to get a fair bit of Congressional support. A far cry from NASA's meager attempts to flog a manned space program that barely limps along from year to year, fingers crossed that they don't blow up another shuttle in the process.

For now, though, at least we have a study.

The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first steps.

Good luck to Lt. Col. M.V. "Coyote" Smith of the US Air Force as he develops this study. Note to Major General James Armor (Director of the National Security Space Office) - kudos for having the foresight to look at this problem... just keep an open mind when looking at the implications the report will likely present (and don't let them try to feed you the kool-aid in the process). SSP isn't easy, nor trivial - it will require a major rethink of DoD Space and if the foundation isn't laid, this simply will not pan out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the 10KM span isnt really unthinkable. Thin-film solar cells are nowadays manufactured with roll-to-roll manufacturing, i.e. you could launch long spans of it rolled up or in theory even manufacture them in situ ( dont know if the process is adaptable for zero-g or micro-g manufacturing )
An example of shipping product, in commercial quantities:

By published specs, one square kilometer of this film would weigh roughly 200 tons. The proposed geostationary designs are usually in 10 square kilometer range.
We are talking a few billions in launch costs, which is not ouf of scope for DoD project.

Monday, June 11, 2007 4:45:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen Fleming said...

I think there are some interesting applications of space solar power that don't require 10-kilometer satellites or "large bases in the desert, powered just by sunlight."

There are lots of places in the world that are off the grid (or with an unreliable grid) where boots on the ground might be necessary. These days, those boots are accompanied by a lot of electronic equipment, from laptops to GPS to radios to night vision equipment. All those batteries need to be charged, every day.

Think "replacement for a diesel generator." A couple of kilowatts, plus enough spare current to keep a storage system charged for overnight use.

If you could unfold that from a one-ton truck, WITHOUT A LOGISTICS TAIL, I would think the military would be VERY interested.

Thursday, June 14, 2007 4:28:00 PM  

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