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Power from Space?

A study released by the National Security Space Office says that space-based solar-power systems could be built within several decades.
October 24, 2007

“Can the United States and partners enable the development and deployment of a space-based solar power system within the first half of the 21st Century such that if constructed could provide affordable, clean, safe, reliable, sustainable, and expandable energy for its consumers?”

That’s the fundamental question the National Security Space Office (NSSO) asked in an online collaborative forum that included 170 academic, scientific, technical, legal, and business experts from around the world. The discussion took place over a five-month period, during which the NSSO gathered and organized information pertaining to the feasibility of space-based solar. The results of the study were released on October 10.

The study concluded “that while the business case for SBSP cannot be closed for construction to begin in 2007, the technical feasibility of the concept has never been better and all science and technology development vectors appear to indicate that there is credible potential for SBSP to be built within a strategically relevant period of time.”

It has been more than a decade since a study by a U.S. government agency examined the feasibility of space-based solar power, a concept that was first brought to the government’s attention in the 1960s.

From that earlier study:

The basic idea is very straightforward: place very large solar arrays into continuously and intensely sunlit Earth orbit (1,366 watts/m2), collect gigawatts of electrical energy, electromagnetically beam it to Earth, and receive it on the surface for use either as baseload power via direct connection to the existing electrical grid, conversion into manufactured synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, or as low-intensity broadcast power beamed directly to consumers.

Increasing oil prices and expanding populations have brought the development of alternative energy sources to the forefront of governmental concerns. The NSSO study recommends that while several major challenges need to be overcome, such as low-cost space access and supporting infrastructure on Earth and in space, the U.S government should continue research in this field and encourage the development of space-based solar power.

Images Credit NSSO

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