Many years ago, in Galaxy magazine, Jerry Pournelle devoted his A Step Farther Out column to describing how satellites could be used to harvest solar energy on a scale impossible underneath Earth’s atmosphere. The idea never really went away, but it’s been mostly out of the spotlight. Now, Reuters is reporting a study by the …
"space junk permitting" - Small caveat really when you're providing a 1km wide target.... depends on the orbit and angle I guess.
I'm sure the military will be thrilled to get their new super-weapon built for them - sorry, I mean perfectly safe microwave beaming system. Yup no dangers to worry about at all, no sir, not here.
[ION Cannon charged]
Now where were those pesky NOD terrorists.
my point exactly
having something up there with the capability to create instant 1km diameter cropcircles anywhere sounds not unequal to having nucleair warheads up there. Stuff like "large things that are easily turned into serious weapons" up there is nice when we've solved this little detail of warring nation states.
Who would be in control of said station? If it's not me (all hail your future dictator) I won't trust it ;)
Re: new super-weapon
Yes, indeedy. Start building one of those and I'd have thought that every other space-faring nation would regard it as their DUTY (not just their right, although presumably references would be made to UN charter articles and treaties on space weaponry) to blast it to pieces before it could beam down anything more powerful than a GPS signal.
This idea is a non-starter.
Unfortunately we're coming to an age where each and every energy production and storage system has tremendous amounts of energy stored just in regular operation.
The same is with space ships: any propulsion systems able to move people fast from planet to planet has enough energy to make big holes in them: you get kinetic energy equivalent to antimatter annihilation of same mass at only a bit over 0.7c...
I make it ~0.9c but I take your point. It does point out the difficulty ( I mean impossibilty ) of fuelling any type of ship intended for such speeds. Any fuel mass just becomes more mass to accelerate .... recurses !
Solar Radiation. NOT SAFE IN ANY AMOUNT.
The sun should be banned.
(UV from solar radiation is ionizing, just like gamma rays, hence sun - skin cancer link)
Double the power....you're kidding me?
From the linked article:
"Jeff Peacock, who heads satellite-builder Boeing Co's (BA.N) ground-based solar cell product line, said in theory it could double the amount of solar power collected, compared with the Earth-bound technology equivalent."
Yes folks we could double the solar collected...for only a thousand times the cost, and a crap load of inconvenience and danger*! Bargain!
This is sounding more and more like a thinly veiled space weapon - but I'd expect them to do a much better camouflage job than this....or maybe that's what we'd be expecting...errr.....where's my tinfoil hat?
*(Yes I have no idea how much a 2km solar array would cost on earth but it's got to be a hell of a lot cheaper than constructing and maintaining a 1km one in orbit and then beaming the power safely back to ground stations on earth. There has to be more to this... it sounds insane.)
Not this s--t again...
The problem isn't the death-rays-from-space, or the panel-turning-into-a-solar-sail: It's the insane cost of getting something into orbit and assembled. We already have large solar panels in space - They're on the ISS, and if you look at STS-115 it works out at half a billion USD for 70Kw.
It would be cheaper to get 1,400 Chinese people running on treadmills for 40 USD per day. Or suck down the FUD and build some nuclear reactors, already.
+1 for nuclear, no matter what the Ecomentalists say, its the safest method of energy production we know that actually works.
I generally count myself as an ecomentalist...
...but, one who understands physics and chemistry - a sad minority. If we could get the f---tards at greenpeace to understand that seawater contains uranium and rainwater contains tritium, we'd solve our energy problems by next Thursday.
convert human beings into biochemical batteries which you could array in huge nursery stacks, whilst keeping their conscious mind occupied by means of a computer generated artificial reality.
Actually sounds like it would make rather a good film and a couple of shit sequels.
This is a silly idea
What we really need are GELFs with dyanmo organs.
citing Heinlein, Asimov already cited.
Heinlein thought low orbit was the best place for fission power plants. But then "Blowups Happen".
Gee, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?
At least, when it does, it'll be a crowning moment of epic.
I'd want to see the technical aspects for keeping it in orbit. The residual drag on a 1km square object in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) would be huge.
It's intended for geostationary - in any case how else would it be able to point at a receiver array ?
Excellent idea...then and still
When will people realize it is raining in resources out there and all we need to do is to show up with a bowl.
Gerard K. O'Neill
Gerard K. O'Neill wrote a book in 1974 titled "The High Frontier" (Human Colonies In Space),
about this very idea. It seems to have been totally forgotten. I have in a Corgi book (0 552 10822 7) - published in1978.
I also have this book.
Covers so much ground.
It's probably one of the reasons I'm so bitter, warped and twisted - the flying car/ space hotel future I was supposed to be growing up into is looking further away than ever.
It makes me sad.
They had something like that in Command & Conquer
Only you used it to blow up the whitehouse.
I'd like to congratulate all the naysayers who slated this plan for stuff that aren't actually problems because they couldn't be bothered to learn anything about it.
Its not in LEO, its in GEO, which is easy to station keep at, and had little junk.
Beam spread means the width of the beam at ground level is on the order of a kilometer across and diffuse enough to be no danger to health even if its on you continuously all day every day (its under US workplace safety limits for continuous exposure). Using it as a weapon isn't just difficult, its totally impossible (you can still threaten to turn it off and cut someone's power, but that's an issue with many fuel sources, both green - eg. solar sahara- and fossil - eg. russian gas).
In any case, fail safe systems to turn it off if its pointing at the wrong place are pretty easy to make foolproof (e.g. put a reflector on the ground station, and a hardware link to a detector on the satellite - beam veers off target, reflector on the ground no longer has anything to reflect, satellite's detector is no longer illuminated, power is cut off).
Power output per panel is huge - max power of about 1.5 times the best you can get on land solar, but it gets that on all solar arrays, 24 hours a day, 362 days a year. Land-based solar is at maximum for a few minutes at noon at the equator, and averages way lower than that for a whole day, plus being completely off at night, and then only if it isn't cloudy.
The key thing is that this requires no new tech. We've got the solar panels, the power transmission has been tested, we can put stuff in space and keep it there. All the parts exist and just need to be put together. Unlike, for example, fusion, we know how to do this.
There are 2 main problems. The small one is space, GEO requires being above the equator and its already full of communication satellites, and interference is going to be an issue.
The big problem is cost per watt, and that absolutely requires cheap access to space. NASA will never be able to do it, SpaceX might. Someone really ought to look into full scale laser launch systems too, they have a lot of potential. But any commercial venture has got to deal with this or its a complete non-starter.
Basic physics 101 -
You can't build an orbital death ray with microwaves, unless you used a antenna of insane (100s of kms) dimensions. Easier to build a small antenna and allow bean spread. Just cover x amount of farm land with chicken wire on poles. Land is cheap in this context
The best scheme is to use a phased array antenna for transmission which is locked onto a pilot transmitter on the ground. If the orbital antenna looses lock, all focusing would be locked and the power per square whatsit would go down from less-than-sunlight to I-need-a-better-detector-to -detec anything.
It is useless as a weapon - "Do as we say or we will turn our beam of microwaves on you. At an intensity that is classified as safe for the workplace by 'elf and safety".
Sounds good...sort of.
Would such an array EVER pay for itself? I mean, solar arrays down on earth are expensive enough. Add in the costs of getting the things up there...
Ok, so its more efficient up there, there is less maintenance involved - no birds to shit on the panels and all, but does that difference really cover launching into space? Launching 1kg 100km straight up (roughly edge of atmosphere) requires mgh J of energy = 1 * 9.8 * 100,000.
= 980,000kJ assuming 100% efficiency.
assuming about 20% efficiency this array has to generate approximately 2kWh per kg it weighs just to cover the launch energy, never mind production of the array and the ground facilities. I'm also guessing 1kWh of rocket fuel costs more than 1kWh of electricity.
The energy cost of a launch to GEO is trivial. This system will only need to run for a few hours to cover that.
But there are people who will see the figures, with all those zeroes, and scream and point about greenhouse gas production.
Similarly, some will make a fuss about the system pumping more energy into an overheating planet. Well, the Earth is pretty big, and the extra surface area is a tiny increase. Figure in the reduction in greenhouse gases: just make sure you use the "right" model for the effects.
In the end, this depends on being able to do the construction work, and, wonderful though the ISS is, this is something that is going to depend on robots. Not the mechanical men of so much sci-fi, but remotely operated machines, well beyond the automatic docking of a supply ship to the ISS.
NASA spent huge amounts on spacesuits to get a man's hands on the job. They might have made a better return on a mechanical hand, and the control and feedback mechanisms to let a human hand control it. Even if the astronaut had to be in the Shuttle (communications lag), did he really need that awkward personal spaceship?
The energy isn't the problem
To raise the Earths temperature just by adding heat would take an insane extra amount of power - think multiply world energy expenditure by 100x to see noticeable effects. This is because the heat radiates away. You'd get some heat islands (see modern cities).....
Green house gases are about accidently installing extra double glazing and keeping unwanted heat in. Not the heat itself.....
I wonder how much it would cost to....
Create an equatorial solar array (nominally at sea level) 24 hours of power, no need to ship it into space.
My beer coast calcs say you'd be able to create a 1 panel wide array around the earth for between $12 and $20 billion. This would produce ~1GW continuously, with the added advantage of being on the fcuking ground. This assumes retail prices for panels. And is an horrendous wast of cash.
To launch said panels, using say, a non-existent space shuttle would cost ~$1700 billion (not including the panels, not including cost of launch vehicles) and take decades. This also adds an embedded energy of ~66Mj / panel to each panel.
This is so much BS designed to put off solving today's problems until tomorrow (like the hydrogen economy, fusion etc). We need to be building nuke plants and R&Ding LFTR reactors, fusion and industrial scale solar.
I tried this in sim city 2000 and it didn't end well
solar in orbit
I live in Dubai, and it is sunny 360 days per year. I mean no clouds, bright sunshine - virtually every day. The place is surrounded by desert with nothing in it. Look at a map of the earth - a goodly portion of the place is sunny everyday and completely empty of people and anything else.
Sure you can pay 30,000 bucks per kilo to put some solar satellite that cost millions of dollars to construct into orbit.
Or... you could just put 10 or even 20 of the same solar panels on the back of a truck and take them into the desert. The power output will be the same. The cost... a tiny fraction of your orbiting solar station.
Maintenance? Hubble-style servicing mission or man in a jeep with a spanner... tell me, which is going to cost millions and which is going to cost 20 bucks an hour or 25 on weekends.
This whole space power thing is so laughable ridiculous from an economic point of view that I cannot believe people are even discussing it.
The trouble is that the big, empty chunks of desert are nowhere near where people want the power. Americans probably don't want to be dependant on the people who sell them oil for electricity either, and it is harder to ship.
That said, I came up with the idea a couple of years ago of building big solar arrays in the desert, then converting oil tankers into huge batteries that you charge up at the solar array, and then take and dock in some far off country and plug into the grid... sure there are all sorts of issues surrounding this giant battery idea, most of which involve release of nasty chemicals and so on if one sank...
Another idea - put a huge array on the moon and beam it back to Earth in a beam wide enough that encompasses most of the planet, at low enough power that won't cause any harm, and pay for it by selling us all some sort of induction charging devices that suck 'free' power out of the air. Obviously only produces power when the moon is up in your region, and is subject to moon phase (best to have two arrays, at left and right sides of the moon so would only produce nothing close to new moon), but it would complement existing generation systems.
I never said these were good ideas...
The microwave transmission
This has also been tested. Between two Hawaian islands: fortunately just about the thickness of the atmosphere but horizontal like.
Works just fine.
As above, the technology is all there, all we need is low price to GEO and we can do it.
Sorry to be a hater again but...
Its very rare to find a successful business or engineering project that relies on lots of shiny new moving parts.
If I was a bank manager and somebody came to me and said
"Hi, as you know our company has got all this experience is building 2-10 km scale space structures, and this business partner of ours can lob a payloads into geo for for $1000/ton.
We noticed that company X has just released their new 35% efficient new space ready solar film for $15/m2 meter. Everybody knows how cheap high efficiency microwave tranciever sets are now days.
So all we need is a GW scale microwave beam collimator and we have found a couple plucky young grads who seem to have it nailed! So, for $500,000 million we can build a GW solar plant and turn those free watts in space into $0.05/kwh.
EBIT is about 12% and given the current climate we expect to pay it off in 15years. You in?"
If anybody wants to tell me which of the above moving parts actually exist now, or will exist in the next 10 years I'll invest. On the other hand, any of those things actually existing now or in the next 10 years would probably make space based solar power a wast of money as each one of them is a complete game changer.
Move in for a better view.
Move them closer to the sun, collect more energy. 1/100th the distance, 10,000x the energy.
Why stop at earth orbit? Move these things closer to the sun, collect a lot more energy... take advantage of r^2.