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*Update* Space-based Solar Power Generation is the Future


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2022 has been a banner year for space issues with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) deployment/output/images and NASA's D.A.R.T. mission to affect the trajectory of an asteroid and begin practical testing of a Planetary Defense Mechanism. However, as truly wonderful as these two missions (and others) were, they aren't going to be the driving force of humanity's move into space as they don't really have practical, tangible, direct benefits to offer 'Somchai on the street', and we humans need that.

My guess is that the need for clean energy which can be had by bypassing local conflicts (yes, you Russia) will be the impetus in the development of space-based systems. 

A quick note as there will inevitably be comments regarding the recent Hydrogen Ignition Test successes. I love the idea that we humans will get the hang of Hydrogen as a clean fuel source, but even the most optimistic say it'll be decades before any practical, large-scale applications are available. Moreover, as I read various publications' take on the potential of Hydrogen Power's future, I kept coming across a saying, "Clean Hydrogen power is at least twenty years in the future, and always will be" (sorry mods, I can't recall a link, but it'd be easy to find if required). When I see that many science writers advocating caution and/or skepticism, I take them at their word.

Space-based solar power beamed to earth, on the other hand, seems to be accepted by many scientists and it includes practical economic benefits to Humanity which may provide the political cover needed for politicians to actually approve it.

What is spaced-based solar power generation and how does it work? There are a few different methods or techniques.


(Graphic from Google via "Impact Lab". Google: sci fi space-based power generation and robots, look at images)

"The space-based solar power system involves a solar power satellite – an enormous spacecraft equipped with solar panels. These panels generate electricity, which is then wirelessly transmitted to Earth through high-frequency radio waves. A ground antenna, called a rectenna, is used to convert the radio waves into electricity, which is then delivered to the power grid." (link "theconversation" below)

Yes, it does sound a bit 'Science-Fictiony' (to coin a term), but we already have the knowledge to do this on a small scale. And, yes, due to costs it'll likely need governments to continue playing a role for the immediate future until such a time that the Private sector could take over, akin to the early days of the Air Travel industry and/or International Telecoms.




The links provided above show how such a thing could be done, but there are practical matters like economics that need to be addressed in order to get things off the ground. The 'Universe Today' article (link below) looks at the economics of Space-Based Solar Power for remote mining on Earth, and is the first practical look at how it might work that I have seen. Yup, still too expensive at the moment, but as technology progresses, new discoveries occur and the price of inaction on Climate Change rises, it is hard to imagine that it won't be economically viable in the next years


Finally, Sci-Fi writers have been using space-based solar power as a staple in their stories for many years, and they have been remarkably prescient; this alone is enough for me to think that we will see it in the next few decades. I think it'd be a fair statement that we will see this in our lifetimes; perhaps one of these days we will all lie on our backs, look up at the stars and see 'power beams' which, safely and cleanly, allow our modern conveniences.



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On 12/19/2022 at 3:57 PM, Shade_Wilder said:

perhaps one of these days we will all lie on our backs, look up at the stars and see 'power beams' which, safely and cleanly, allow our modern conveniences.

Can they be pointed at the bad guys zap 'em, in event of war?  

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Solar farms on earth are ineffectual, wind turbines are overpriced and rely on government subsidy to survive - without taking over from baseload power stations - and now some SF author wants to spend billions on a great big solar panel in the sky? Sure... why not? It's only (your) money.

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  • 5 months later...

As noted in my OP six months ago, I think that space-based solar power is going to play a huge role in Humanity's future, assuming that we don't manage to kill ourselves off by accident or stupidity.

What is the basis for that belief? Space-based solar power is virtually limitless. Let's face it; as our species progresses, we are going to have a need for more and more power, and I somehow doubt that we will use up our Sun anytime soon. Moreover, it is a clean source of power, and simply reading a newspaper on any given day demonstrates that Humanity MUST shift to clean energy, ASAP, lest we do irreversible damage to the planet. Finally, I place great faith in the prognostic abilities our our Science Fiction writers as they have an incredible record of accurately predicting the future, and many/most of them foresee a future where Humanity utilizes it.

How does it work?


Image from Google/ESA

What are the pros and cons? Space.com has an excellent article laying them out.

On a side note, if you have read this far, you really need to bookmark Space.com if you haven't already; by continuing to here, it proves that it is a site for you.


So, what is new that prompted an update of this post?

Recently, the scientists at CalTech in the US demonstrated the ability to beam power down to Earth in a controlled manner; this is  a milestone on the path to developing the technology for use in the near future.


We are still many years away from any kind of widespread utilization of the technology, but we are almost at the point where we can definitively state that it is coming, and coming soon; the hurdles that we face in the future seem more economic than technological. That said, even those are slowly dropping away; space flight is getting cheaper by the day, there is already massive investment in clean energy as we humans really begin to understand out peril, and this technology has the potential to sidestep many issues that plague progress. Imagine the possibilities of delivering clean power to lesser-developed States/Areas without the need for massive infrastructure projects? There are incredible opportunities ahead.


Image from Google/CalTech

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The more that you read up, the more that you realize that it is coming, and coming relatively soon.

Singularity Hub (singularityhub.com, link below) has another excellent overview article, noting...

"The idea of beaming solar power down from space might seem like something out of a sci-fi movie. But new legislation in Congress, a funding announcement from the UK government, and the first successful test of the technology all suggest its moment may be coming.

Getting your solar energy directly from space makes a lot of sense. The atmosphere doesn’t get in the way, and there’s no day and night so you can generate power around the clock. But to produce significant amounts of electricity you need to get a huge amount of equipment into orbit, which has historically been prohibitively expensive.

Rapid reductions in the cost of launches and the advent of new rockets that can carry much greater loads like Space X’s Starship are starting to change the calculus, though. And a growing number of governments are getting serious about turning to space in their quest to slash their carbon emissions."


The US Department of Energy has a fascinating set of graphics ( I tried to copy, but you need to go to the site) outlining both how it works and the pros and cons.

https://www.energy.gov/space-based-solar-power#:~:text=Solar panel equipped%2C energy transmitting,a microwave or laser beam.

To me, as an interested amateur who is fascinated by Space stuff, it is the confluence of technologies, economics and politics which are coming together to create something wonderful and new.

Space, space tech, space exploration and the like are enjoying a renaissance led by Elon Musk, Bezos and the others; we see space tourism, we see new developments in communications (Starlink is keeping Ukraine going) and we will see the development of space mining sooner rather than later.

On the government side, we see the return of the Americans to a Moon program, the JWST, DART, etc. Moreover, the Chinese space program is nothing to sneeze at, and the power of competition will certainly accelerate development.

Sadly, the third major contributing factor is the growing realization that we as a species really need to do something about global warming/climate change; simply put, the costs of doing nothing are growing exponentially.

Taken all together, forces and events are pushing us to develop a serious space-based presence; the tech is rising, the costs are falling, and the need is growing.

I dully expect to see space-based solar power at least begin in my lifetime.


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