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ExWeb 2009 Space report, part 3 - Manna from Heaven: Space Solar Power

Posted: Sep 17, 2009 11:03 pm EDT

(Pythom.com/Tina Sjogren) Although gas prices didn't take us for the same big ride this summer compared to last, fact remains that we are running out of juice.

Two thirds of the current oil producers can't increase production anymore - while demand is skyrocketing - mainly in fast-growing China. The oil that's left is a dirty, clammy concoction - almost impossible to refine at a reasonable cost anymore.

Man made global warming or not, we want to go green. At least until we start to count on it and speakers at this year's Space conference offered some pretty chilling numbers.

Aerospace consultant Mike Snead (senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) compiled the white paper, The End of Easy Energy and What to Do About It. (Download it at http://mikesnead.net.) Here are just a few of his facts:

A scarred drive to California

Between 2010 and 2100, the world will need about 17,000 billion BOE (barrels of oil equivalent) of energy (oil, coal, and natural gas). Current world (proved) reserves total about 6,000 billion. Additional exploration and better recovery could add at best another 6,000 billion - still only 12 of the 17 needed. Sometime in the very next decades, we are bound to run out.

Biofuel cars, roof solar panels - say that we make everything efficient enough to each consume two-thirds less than we do today, putting us at the consumption level we had in 1900. Say that we accomplish a full buildout of nuclear, hydroelectric, and geothermal power - at the most optimistic forecasts. If we are to meet the United States 2100 needs with sustainable energy, we'll have:

-1.1 million wind turbines covering 390,000 square kilometers and stretching in a 8-kilometer wide band along 7,200 kilometers of coastline.
-153,000 square kilometers of ground solar systems in the southwestern desert states (with 100 percent land use).
- 1.3 billion dry tons of land biomass collected annually from all cropland and accessible forestland converted to biofuels and oil substitutes.

"Imagine what that drive to California will look like," someone said. And still we'll be short.

Space Solar Power: a brand new, old idea

There's a third option, where a new industry is quietly brewing: Space Solar Power. The idea is basically to launch solar panels into space, and beam energy with lasers or microwaves to collectors on earth. We're talking unfiltered juice, 24/7.

The idea is not new, but back when it was first considered (in the 50s) we lacked the materials and technologies we have today.

Some of you might recall ExWeb's story from two years back (check the links section) about the Japanese man who shot up a SSP test unit which unfurled nicely in space with robots and all. He did it on a shoestring together with a friend from ESA, as NASA wouldn't reply to his mails.

Times have changed. The budding concept still has many skeptics but interest is clearly growing. This year, SSP speeches were more numerous, rooms were bigger and audiences were larger. Boeing was in place; so was the Canadian Space Agency and, yes, NASA.

JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) is scheduled first up to develop and launch an SSP satellite. Today's advocates such as Mike Snead and Dr Feng Hsu (Lead Engineer, Frontier Space Missions, NASA GSFC) said that the technology would offer higher power/unit land area than other renewables. A sharp army guy toyed with an idea to beam power straight to deployed forward units in order to ease soldiers' packs reportedly weighing about 50-60 lbs with much being power.

Even with expensive launch costs, payback would be in just a few days, speakers said. Others disagreed but no detailed numbers were offered.

CTO of HumanEdgeTech, Tom Sjogren is working on a project aimed at increasing watt/kg in solar power solutions by using new materials and technologies. With hands-on experience of extreme solar power from countless polar, ocean and mountain expeditions, Tom checked the figures. Here goes his rough but relevant estimate of the cost of a small 200kw/hour solar power station placed in space.

Tom's example:

"Most of the technologies needed for SPP are available today with modifications. Those not yet developed, such as long distance microwave beams and earth receptors, have been tested in small scale. It is often said that to be economical, a spaced based solar power station must be huge. The example below shows that this is not the case."

"The solar energy at 1 AU is 1368 Watts/m2, our atmosphere filters this to around 1000 Watt. Today's solar panels have an efficiency of 5-15%, where higher efficiency comes at increased weight."

"For applications where watt/weight is the most important factor (such as space-, military-, and expedition solar) the most efficient panels are based on thin film technology. Such give up to 50 Watt/kg, which could be improved with available technology by a factor of 2, or 100W/kg for Space use."

"A small launch project of 4000 kg (2000 kg solar), would cost around $200 million and have an expected life of 15 years. With present technology, the total power generated would be 30 Giga Watt Hours or a cost of $7/Watt. It would power (24/7) 150 American households for 15 years."

"Current cost of power is 5 to 10 cent per kilowatt. Competing with technologies that have been around for a century, at an initial cost of $7/kw Space Solar Power is not financially viable."

"Yet major improvements in weight efficiency are expected with the introduction of nano technology and ultra light, super strong binding materials to solar cells. It's not far fetched to expect an increase to 200 or 300 Watt/Kg within the next 5 to 10 years. By then, also cost of launch and material should drop significantly with scale."

"With these improvements Space Solar Power should come close to a 10 cent/watt scenario and become a significant aid to the world's energy needs."

Next final: ExWeb's end report from Financial Space Conference in New York.

The International Space Development Conference is the annual conference for the National Space Society and has grown into the largest public space conference of the year. It is a national gathering for space-interested leaders and citizens to connect, re-energize and make plans for the future.

This year the National Space Society also hosted the 6th Space Investment Summit, a one-day event on Wednesday, May 27, kicking off the 28th annual International Space Development Conference May 28-30 in Orlando, Florida.

The National Space Society (NSS) is an independent, international, grassroots nonprofit organization, dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. Founded in 1974 by Wernher von Braun, NSS is working as the preeminent citizens voice on space. The ultimate goal is "People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth."

"Cultures that do not explore, die!" writes the Society in its mission statement. They want humanity to diversify, live and think out of the box, and go to outer space to survive. NSS also publishes the Space mag adAstra and partnered with Space.com.

#Mountaineering #Polar #Space #Mountaineering #Oceans #Science #feature #choice

JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) is first up to develop and launch an SSP satellite. Snapshot of conference slide by ExWeb (click to enlage).
Power beamed straight to deployed forward units would ease soldiers packs. Snapshot of conference slide by ExWeb (click to enlarge).
Rooms were bigger and audiences were larger than last. This time around, Boeing was in place; so was the Canadian Space Agency and NASA. Snapshot of conference slide by ExWeb (click to enlarge).
Rooms were bigger and audiences were larger than last. This time around, Boeing was in place; so was Raytheon, the Canadian Space Agency, and NASA. Snapshot of conference slide by ExWeb (click to enlarge).
Advocates such as Dr Feng Hsu (Lead Engineer, Frontier Space Missions, NASA GSFC) said that the technology would offer higher power/unit land area than other renewables. Image by ExplorersWeb (click to enlarge).
Some of the pioneers...
...and their growing audience. Images by ExplorersWeb (click to enlarge).
Two years ago, Dr Nobuyuki Kaya, researcher in Radio Engineering, Geophysics and Plasma Physics in Japan took a red eye to US to show his shoestring experiment with Space Solar Power. Insert image of Kaya over a model of a Trestle space solar power unit - an autonomous assembly by teams of coordinated robots funded by a NSF/NASA/EPRI program. Dr Kaya's note was moderated by NASA veteran John Mankins who left the agency due to his disagreement with NASA's policy on solar power researc..