Thursday, December 27, 2007

Solar Power Satellites Closer

2007 was a year when Solar Power Satellites came closer to reality. Because of the lack of atmosphere, sunlight is about eight times more intense in orbit than on Earth's surface. SPS in geosynchronous orbit has been studied at least since Dr. Peter Glaser in 1968. This year it has been subject of a serious study by the US National Security Space Office, and a blog by Air Force Colonel "Coyote" Smith.

In September at a conference in Hyderabad, businessman Peter Reed proposed a receiving antenna on an uninhabited island in the Palau chain. At December's UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Reed's partners described the idea further. Their plan would place an experimental satellite at 300-mile altitude, avoiding the difficulty of reaching geosynchronous orbit.

If scientists in 1907 had lectured about the future of energy it would have been about coal and oil, yet someone had already written E = mc^2. 40 years later we had atomic reactors and an atomic bomb. First we must go beyond dead ends like "dark energy." The power of free thinking will lead to technological surprises.

If tiny Black Holes can be contained in an orbiting laboratory, their energy could be tapped. Even nuclear fusion converts only 0.7% of fuel into energy. A Black Hole converts matter into radiation with 2 orders of magnitude greater efficiency, approaching total conversion. The food that a human eats in a year could provide all the electricity needs of the United States! Any sort of mass could be used for fuel, even old AOL disks and issues of National Geographic.

Solar Power satellites have not been deployed because of the immense construction costs. An SPS constellation powering the US would require 30-40 satellites, each with kilometers of solar arrays. Note how much trouble it has been constructing one space station in low Earth orbit. Black Hole energy would require just one satellite without all those solar panels! The power of thought is far greater than anything humans have imagined.

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Blogger nige said...

The question here is how to efficiently beam the energy back to earth. I think that the most energy efficient solution is either microwave beaming (there is some attenuation here, particularly by the ionosphere and by moisture and clouds in the ionosphere, but the latter also applies to using laser beams, and there is still the problem of converting the received beam back into electricity with reasonable efficiency) or laser beams of suitable wavelength to get through the atmosphere with minimal attenuation. There are enormous eficiency problems at every stage, including the energy-efficient conversion of sunlight into laser beam wavelengths that can be sent to earth (it's easy to use the received energy here on earth - just let the beam boil water and provide the heat to run a steam engine and turn the attached generator).

Solar cells are an inefficient conversion of sunlight into electricity, particularly after a few years exposure to sunlight, nevermind the high-energy electrons spiralling around the Earth's magnetic field lines in the Earth's van Allen radiation belt (the silicon lattice suffers gradual radiation damage, and the current falls). Then you have the problem of using that electricity to produce an energy-efficient beam to be sent back to Earth. Obviously there will be some loss here, because the microwave or laser diode junction will heat up and some energy will be radiated uselessly into space.

I wonder if these inefficiencies have been calculated carefully and proven to definitely outweigh the inefficiency of the atomsphere in shielding a large portion of the sunlight? Otherwise, it might make more sense to put the solar panels in deserts here on Earth, and pipe out the power in conventional high voltage power lines, which are quite efficient. I also wonder whether any complaints would arise from the beaming of solar energy to earth by lasers or microwaves. Aircraft would need to keep clear, and corrupt military dictatorships would try to hack in and divert the beams to fry their enemies. It would be very tempting to use it for "Star Wars" activities in a state of emergency.

Solar cells on the moon would be a good idea to provide power to a community to live there, if that could ever be financed.

10:44 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

There are definitely a lot of engineering issues. If SSP were economical, it would be building right now.

8:09 AM  

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