Japan's 25-year plan to have space solar power
— By Janet Fang on April 28, 2014, 4:47 AM PST
Nuclear power is already dangerous, microwave energy is a great, clean, effective solution. It still has some major design hurdles to overcome, true, but it's potentially a huge step forward. If mankind can create something this sophisticated, then we could do much, much more as well.
So we'd have a large column of microwave radiation beamed down from space, that would 'fry' anything that flew through it. Genius! Duh! Can we have a bit more emphasis on the 'Smart' please.
Instead of using microwaves to BEAM that generated electricity from orbit down to the surface, hopefully by that time Solar in Space becomes a reality, an Earth Elevator will also become a reality and we will have developed superconducting "wires" which would make getting the electricity down to the surface much simpler, more efficient and much less expensive.
This is just another great example why all Countries of Earth should pool their scientific resources in order to benefit all of mankind rather than trying to do everything by themselves, which will only end up causing further conflicts and/or wars that will doom us to failure as a Planet.
One serious problem. Anything strong enough to be able to power up something would likely have to deal with the perception of it being a potential weapon. While I doubt it could ever be a practical death ray, it could be used to disrupt communications or the like.
I wonder if anyone has considered how burning a constant one gigawatt microwave hole through the atmosphere might affect weather and the local ecosystem?
I like the plan in concept, but I don't think it goes far enough. I propose a series of collectors orbiting the Sun rather than the Earth, in the same orbit that Earth follows. Combine this with a set of geosynchronous satellites around the earth, and you maximize collection, while minimizing variables. Keeping the collectors facing the Sun would cease to be a problem, as would coordinating transfer from Earth orbit to ground level. The main issue would be transfer from the solar array to the Earth orbit array.
The limitations of solar power even exist in space. As much as solar advocates hate it, this idea is fraught with the same 2 basic problems that land based industrial scale solar has run into.
Remote locations required to get clear skies that make remote power transmission difficult and costly.
The constant movement of the sun leading to inefficient fixed positioning of the collectors. Thus forcing excessive power overhead to keep the alignment optimal.
With only an 80% efficiency at best on both ends of the power transmission, is a best case 60% power conversion rate enough to justify the expense? Likely no.
Now if they wanted to talk about using this concept to power a moon base. Different story.
Until there's a radical reduction in the cost of deploying and maintaining hardware in orbit, I don't see this as being any cheaper than nuclear is.
Won't the microwaves fry anything that get's in it's way like birds, planes, helicopters, satellite's, earth orbit debris ? Having watched Gravity, hopefully not causing a space debris cascade if it does hit anything.
...or will it be 'Death Star' visible beam ?
With all the hurdles still to to over-come, it still seems like SciFi, despite the advocacy for it.
@CaptD You are both, a dreamer and naive.
With your last sentence, you do realize how far away the sun is, yes .... ?
Around 150m kilometers.
As said at the top, still in the realms of SciFi, as your proposal will overcome solar irradiance issues, but replace them with unsurmountable transmission issues.
@Hates Idiots Actually, you are quite wrong.
First, the amount of power available makes it possible to deal with transmission loses fairly easily--you scale up the plant. Microwave transmission of power was proven effective in the 1970's.
Second, the SUN doesn't move. Satellites move. The Earth moves. Keeping a satellite positioned is old technology. Not a problem.
Using a base on the moon on the other hand, DOES present exactly the problems you present, with the additional problem that the rotation ensures that the power won't be generated for 50% of the time (unless you establish polar stations.) It is also very expensive to land and take off from the moon, and the dust tends to stick to any surface, which would require some sort of cleaning system.
I've studied this technology since it was first proposed in the 1960's through the development studies of the 1970's on to today.
If conventional power plants actually paid to deal with the pollution created by collecting and transporting their fuel and the resulting waste products, space based systems would easily beat any of their cost figures.
Only the fact that conventional systems foist these costs off onto the general tax base rather than paying them internally keeps our current power system cost competitive in any way shape or form.
It is also much, much harder for terrorists to destroy such a plant, and if such were to happen, there would be no risk to the environment or the public other than the loss of power generation--which would be the case even with conventional power.
The major block to this technology is those who hold fossil and nuclear fuel and generation rights and capability.
(As a side note, coal-fired plants along the Ohio River valley have been creating massive air pollution for decades in national parks in Texas--which by law should have caused them to be shut down immediately upon proof--no court needed--under the Clean Air Act. However, none of these plants has been shut down, nor have they even been required to deal with their pollution.)
@JohnMcGrew Cost is not the only, or even the major issue.
Initial cost to develop is high, granted. Because lots of the first construction habitat and generator need to be taken to orbit from Earth. But once construction habitat is in place, a lunar mining facility can provide materials and cost per generator drops rapidly.
The fact that these systems do not require fuel and are not subject to Earth weather (and highly corrosive water and oxygen,) means that the cost of maintenance and operation are very much lower. Because they do not require the massive and polluting infrastructure to collect and transport fuels, nor the problem of disposing of toxic wastes, total system costs over time are very low and will continue to drop over time.
As we have seen in the past few years, even a single nuclear plant disaster threatens millions of people for tens of thousands of years. Even a destroyed SSP in geosync orbit is unlikely to threaten anyone on the ground--even if it were to somehow be pushed into the atmosphere (unlikely in the extreme) because such a plant would burn nearly completely upon entry to the atmosphere.
Do not make the mistake of assuming that current costs reflect future costs. The first nuclear plants never made a profit at all, design and construction costs for prototypes are nearly always unprofitable.
@JohnMcGrew As per usual, good point.
speaking of space junk what happens when some of that stuff comes flying thru your 1.2 mile wide solar farm? You're gonna have to send up the maytag repairman.
I can't help but fully agree here.
Despite SP falling over themselves on a very cherry picked list of so vague as to be meaningless (cough) 'predictions' that came true a few weeks back, this is on the majority fail list of Isaac Asimov's whacked out SciFi claptrap.
@wizoddg @Hates Idiots I have always found this to be an interesting argument to use against fossil fuels.
"If conventional power plants actually paid to deal with the pollution created by collecting and transporting their fuel and the resulting waste products, space based systems would easily beat any of their cost figures."
When that reasoning is applied to solar and the environmental costs associated with building PV panels added up, the numbers do not look so rosy for "green power." The same can be said for wind turbines, geo thermal, hydro and your space station.
Think about how much rocket fuel is going to be burned to get all the parts into space. How does that balance sheet look now using your argument?
And thank you for the basic astronomy lesson, but I learned that in first grade. No offence taken by your condescending speech. Besides, you completely missed my point.
Yes you have stated the obvious that satellite positioning technology is decades old. And yes the technology to keep the solar panels on them pointed at the sun is decades old. But you are ignoring the elephant in space.
We are talking about doing those things with a space station of massive size. That will require power for positioning thrusters and motors of sizes well beyond the scope of anything in space now. The station will need to be kept in a high orbit to avoid junk and stay out of the earths shadow. That requires power. As stated in the post the station will require constant adjustment tto keep on target to the earth station. Requires power.
Are we going to burn more rocket fuel to keep the onboard thrusters fueled? Or will they use a type of ion thrusters that uses some of the power generated and only periodically have to be "refueled"?
If Microwave transmission is so great, why is it today still only used for telecoms data and not power ?
The movement HatesIdiots was talking about was more than covered in the article - you either have to fuel up the station to accomodate the continual (effective relative) movement of the sun to the reflectors, or have some self-powered mechanism to compensate this (does this even exist on the scale needed for this station(s)?, the article mentions to give a natural counterbalance to gravity ??!!)), and the associated movement relative to the earth base station - Must be able to do the difficult stuff when the Japanese base station is in night - implying quite a high orbit station to still see the sun clearly, and a necessarily tight laser microwave beam over thousands of miles of space and atmosphere - going back to point one on where's the proven tech at work today, even land based?
And the "weather" is space is every bit as hostile as the weather here on the surface, mainly in the form of radiation and micro-meteorite hits. Equipment in space is hardly going to be maintenance free. And cost of repair significantly higher.
No, I'm not making any mistake about future costs. (I'm still waiting for my "too cheap to meter" nuclear, solar, and wind power) But until someone can produce detailed plans as to how they are going to lower launch costs my several orders of magnitude, I'll be skeptical.
@adornoe @JohnMcGrew @wizoddg Also, one has to consider what the useful life of an orbital power station might be. For example, when originally launched, it was estimated that the International Space Station would have a useful life of roughly 20 years. (It's said that after 15 years, the solar panels on the ISS look like a West Texas stop-sign) Like with with any vehicle, at some point, the cost of increasing needs of maintenance and fighting entropy will be more than its worth. Could a decent return on investment of an orbital energy station be recouped in less than 20 years?
A decent sized meteor could render that space plant completely useless, and could easily become a major disaster, depending on where it lands on the planet, and how many chunks are generated if the plant becomes shredded. Plus, the plant and the surface of the planet would not be the only things threatened; any satellites in the way of those shredded chunks of the space plant, would also be threatened, and that could end up creating major disruptions in communications that depend on satellites, like GPS.